"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

TTT: Characters with names that fit their personalities

Top Ten Literary characters with names that fit them.

Charles Dickens seemed to be the master of naming his characters appropriately. Let's see if I can fill out the list using examples from his books. I may need a little help from the Internet since I haven't read all of his books.

Great Expectations
1. Pip (Great Expectations)--- a "pip" is a seed, or a tiny thing. Pip grows into himself throughout the story, like growing up from a planted seed.

2. Oliver Twist (Oliver Twist)---the runaway orphan ends up in a gang of pickpockets and n'er-do-wells. If he continues in this lifestyle he very well may end up being arrested and hanged for his crimes. The term "twist" was used to describe what would happen after a person was hanged. Another interpretation could be that Oliver seems to be able to twist out of several sticky situations.

3. Ebeneezer Scrooge (A Christmas Carol)---the term "scrooge" probably came from a play on the word screw which meant miser in 19th century lingo.

4. Mrs. Havisham (Great Expectations)---break apart her name into syllables and you get "have-a-sham". Her life is a sham and she inflicts this on Pip when she leads him into thinking she is his benefactor and that Estella loves him.

5. David Copperfield (David Copperfield)---Take the initials, DC, and turn them around, you get CD or Charles Dickens. Dickens mined his own life (Copper-field) for character traits.

6. Mr. Merdle (Little Dorrit)---merde is the French word for excrement. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that Mr. Merdle is full of s#*t.

7. Fagin (Oliver Twist)---Fagin is the villain of the book. A fagin is a person who teaches crime to others.

8. Tiny Tim (A Christmas Carol)---not only was he sickly, but the boy was also small for his age, a common problem for poor children of the Victorian age. Scrooge pays Cratchit so little that his children, especially Tim, are sickly and undernourished.

The Artful Dodger by Clarke
9. Mr. Stryver (A Tale of Two Cities)---Stryver is an ambitious lawyer, he is always striving for more. Get it?

10. Artful Dodger (Oliver Twist)---um, this one is so easy I didn't even need notes to figure it out. The boy, a pickpocket, is very good at getting away and not being captured. His given name, Jack Dawkins, could also apply to his skill level...he was a jack of all trades (in the underworld.)

This was fun. Can you think of any other Dickens' characters with fun names which fit their personalities?

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Sunday Salon: May 20

Aerial view of Mt. Rainier. It was too cloudy today to see this view as we returned from New York.
Photo credit: Margaret Grieve-Fent.
Weather: Overcast and cool temperatures; after a rainy week in New York.

New York: We just got back from our week in New York where we traveled to be with our daughter Carly, who graduated with a Master of Science in Human Genetics from Sarah Lawrence College. Rita also joined us for the week but returned home two days earlier.
Mother's Day photo with my daughters in the Hotel Edison and the Art Deco decor.
Graduation: Carly graduated with 27 other students in her cohort group in Human Genetics, and about 100 students from several other graduate programs on Thursday afternoon. The day began with a nice reception at Wrexham Hall where we could interact with the Human Genetics program staff, students, and parents. Ken and Carol joined us for the day. After the ceremony, which took place under a big tent in the middle of campus, the university put on a nice reception outside where Carly had a chance to say her goodbyes to beloved classmates. Earlier in the week, she and her program members presented their capstone thesis research projects in a symposium which was interesting and illuminating. We couldn't be prouder of our dear girl!
Carly, flowered dress front, prior to the graduation ceremony with most of her cohort group.
Moving: Part of the week was focused on preparing Carly for her move from Yonkers to San Francisco where she will start her first job as a genetic counselor. She still hasn't located an apartment there so we made the decision to ditch all of her furniture and to pack up clothing and personal items. I will return to New York in two weeks, and then Carly and I will jump in her loaded car and drive back across country. In the meantime she will work with a realtor in San Fran and her cousin who lives there in hopes that she can find a new abode. Lots of changes!

The "real" Winnie-the-Pooh and friends. On display in the children's section of the NY Public Library.
While in New York: We didn't spend the whole week on graduation and moving preparations. We did go into the city on several occasions. Last Sunday we saw a matinee of "Waitress". Don said the musical was exceptional because he cried three times. Ha! It really is a wonderful combination of touching, funny, and poignant. Tuesday the four of us went to the 9-11 Memorial Museum. Carly had to return to her school for commencement rehearsal and a dinner for the graduates. Rita, Don and I went back to Broadway to see the musical "Once On This Island". It was a unique show, presented in theater in the round and we thoroughly enjoyed it, too. Prior to seeing this show, we walked to the New York Public Library. We saw three special exhibitions: Shared Sacred Places, Remembering the 60's, and Winnie-the-Pooh (original toys). All were so different but wonderful in their own way. We went back into the city on Wednesday evening. Don and I, joined by Ken and Carol, went to the musical "Come From Away" about the 9-11 experience in Gander, Newfoundland, where over 30 jet airliners were diverted to that location when the US air space was closed after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. "Come From Away" is a very emotional experience but also a healing one. After our day at the 9-11 Memorial Museum, the musical showed another perspective to the story of the 9-11 terrorist attacks. The girls attended a very different off-Broadway show, "Drunken Shakespeare."
Outside "Waitress" on Broadway, hoping for rush tickets, which we got!
Saying goodbye to Yonkers: Though it is not our favorite place on earth, it has been Carly's home for the last two years. Both Don and I found ourselves saying goodbye as we went about our business this past week. Goodbye to the Hyatt Place hotel where we have stayed every time we've visited Carly. Goodbye to her funky, yet quite spacious apartment. Goodbye to a favorite Italian restaurant we discovered when we moved Carly to Yonkers two years ago: Gianna's. Goodbye to Sarah Lawrence College and to Carly's home within the college: Wrexham Hall.

Books completed in New York (admittedly, I didn't get much reading done this trip):
  • The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan---a YA book about an artist girl, Leigh. As she grapples with grief after her mother commits suicide, she finally meets and spends time with her Taiwanese grandparents which allows her to finally make peace with her feelings of confusion. Very touching but a bit long.
Currently reading:
  • Less by Andrew Greer---the 2018 Pulitzer Prize winner for literature. A fun book. Audio. 79%.
  • Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman---a YA novel, the second book in the Scythe series. Print. 10%.
We flew out of Newark heading west toward home today. After an overnight stay with Ken and Carol in Westfield, NJ. Thanks for the yummy dinner, the card playing, and forever friendship. (And the ride to the airport at way-too-early-in-the-morning.)

Update on Dad: My father was discharged from the care center where he got some physical and occupational therapy. My brother is in town, staying with my folks. He says that Mom and Dad are doing OK, just moving quite slow. I will journey to Eugene on Tuesday to spend some time with them through the Memorial Day weekend. Then I will need to return for a few days before I head back to New York.

Monday, May 14, 2018

TTT: Books I Am Glad I Read

Top Ten Tuesday: The question of the day is 'what are some books titles you've read that you hated but are glad you read?' I couldn't think of a single book that I hated so much that I would finish it and then be glad I read it. So I am twisting the prompt to be:

Books ( or series) I am glad I read, though at first I was daunted by them.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Read my review. The whole thing is about how I overcame my fear of this book, the most famous example of magical realism ever written. Now it is one of my favorites.

The Inheritance Cycle series (Eragon) by Christopher Paolini
Each of the books in the series gets longer and longer: Eragon-503 p.; Eldest-704 p.; Brisingr- 748 p; Inheritance- 849 pgs.  The books are full of unpronounceable names and locations. There is a cast of characters as long as my arm. And yet, I loved every moment spent in AlagaĆ«sia with the dragons and their riders.

A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O'Conner
These are by far the most memorable short stories I have ever read. I often think of them in strange or odd moments. I don't usually read short stories

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
I was (still am, a bit) very intimidated by Dickens. his books are so long and are so famous. The longer I delayed reading anything my the author, the more intimidated I felt. I finally read GE and pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it.

Winter by Marissa Meyer
I went to the launch party for this book but I didn't read it until a year later. Why? I felt so daunted by its length. 827 pages.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
I am an Austen fan and an Austen reader but so some reason I kept putting off reading this, her least popular book. When I finally did read it I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it. In fact I thought it was very well done.

Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
Years ago I was asked by an administrator to read Bless Me, Ultima because there was a controversy about the book. Before I got around to it, she read it and told me I didn't have to. From that point forward I was both drawn toward and yet fearful of the book. When I finally read it, I was blown away.  It is another magical realism tale. Not to be missed.

 The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
When this book was selected as a book club read, I was skeptical that I would like it. It is long. It is nonfiction. It is about crew racing. I ended up simply loving it. I even reread it.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
I don't know why, but I really dragged my feet about reading this book after two students recommended it to me. When I finally did, I couldn't believe how good it was.

The Old Kingdom/Abhorsen series by Garth Nix
Sabriel, Lireal, Abhorsen, Clariel, and Goldenhand make up the Old Kingdom series which has become one of my favorite fantasy series ever. A librarian suggested I read it when I first started my job but it took years for me to finally get started and then I couldn't stop. I just read Goldenhand in January of this year to complete the series. Love it!

Friday, May 11, 2018

Friday Quotes: The Astonishing Color of After

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from the book.
e Friday 56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56.

Check out the links for the rules and for the posts of the participants each week. Participants don't select their favorite, coolest, or most intellectual books, they just use the one they are currently reading. This is the book I'm reading right now---

Title: The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

Book Beginnings:
"My mother is a bird. This isn't some William Faulkner stream-of-consciousness metaphorical carp. My mother. Is Literally. A bird."
Friday 56:
"'Leigh', said the bird. I would have known that voice anywhere. That was the voice that asked if I wanted a glass of water after a good cry, or suggest a break from homework with freshly baked cookies, or volunteer to drive to the art store."
Comment: This YA novel is full of descriptive colors and magical realism. Leigh's mother commits suicide and then returns to her daughter as a bird guiding her through the process of getting to know her maternal grandparents and the Chinese culture denied to the daughter earlier in life. I still don't know the symbolism of the bird, but as usually happens with magical realism, I trust all will be revealed by the end of the tale if I am open to the meaning.

Do you like to read magical realism?

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Review: Sgt. Pepper at Fifty

Last year, in the midst of my personal Beatlemania, I ordered Sgt. Pepper at Fifty: the Mood, the Look, the Sound, the Legacy of the Beatles' Great Masterpiece by Mike McInnerney, Bill DeMain, and Gillian Gaar. The book was published to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the release of the album in June of 1967. When the book arrived I looked through it without reading much and set it aside with plans to get to it "someday."

Many months later while I was still in the thralls of Beatlemania, my brother-in-law recommended that my husband and I watch a BBC documentary called Sgt. Pepper's Musical Revolution. We did so one night during the Christmas holidays. The three of us sat in a darkened living room after everyone else had gone to bed and spent a delightful hour with Howard Goddall, a musicologist and composer, who highlighted several of the songs on Sgt. Pepper for how unique and ground-breaking they were for the time. I have since rewatched the program and may do so again. It is so good and illuminating. As I watched it the realization dawned on me as to how little I know about the craft of song-writing and of producing music. The program captivated me just like the album did when I first got it back in the late 1960s.

In 1967, I was ten years old. My family lived in Africa. We had three non-Christmas albums: The Kingston Trio, Bobbie Gentry, and Revolution by the Beatles. When my dad arrived home with the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album that in itself was groundbreaking. My dad buying a rock and roll album!? Impossible. But there it was. My older sister and I must have played that album to death. We loved everything about it. I'm sure I didn't understand how groundbreaking the album was, I just loved the music. Fast forward to 2017. Fifty years later. Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is still thought to be one of, if not THE most influential rock and roll albums ever created. It really is amazing that the album has not only stood the test of time, it still stands on top of the pile.

With this in mind, I finally got back to the book, Sgt Pepper at Fifty: the Mood, the Look, the Sound, the Legacy of the Beatles' Great Masterpiece. Each of the four sections sheds a light on a different aspect of the creation of the album, lovingly called LPs in those days. (I think LP was short for Long Playing. Not to be confused with EP, or Extended Play records, which were longer than singles, which were really doubles because they were double sided. Weird, huh? But I digress.)

The Mood dealt not so much with the Beatles but what was happening in the world and in London during the time of the Beatles. The art scene, the poetry scene, the people who were making the news, how psychedelic concepts were taking root due to drugs like LSD, were all highlighted. One reviewer said that this part of the book was "ho-hum" because it was old news. Well, I thought it was ho-hum for another reason. It wasn't particularly well written and it seemed to me to just a list of a hundred names of people dropped as if to impress. I found this section, taken as a whole, to be revealing as to how an album as unique as Sgt. Pepper could emerge and the Beatles as a product of the times, but taken in parts to be rather tedious.

The Look dealt with the album cover. How it was decided to use so many life-size photos of famous people and how they made it happen. Though I was fascinated by the process and the evolution of the project, I had a really hard time understanding all the details because of the tangled, unclear writing. But ultimately, I came to understand what a huge project it was to not only create the cover using so many images, but to get approval to do so by all the people who were currently living. Eventually they didn't get approval from everyone but not a single person made a legal claim, apparently "a splendid time was guaranteed for all." On one six-page pull out, all of the people on the cover are highlighted with a brief note about why they were selected. The Beatles only selected about half the list, the artists, Peter Blake and Jann Haworth, selected the rest. Ultimately there were over 80 people and items on the cover with the life Beatles, including wax works of the Fab Four which they borrowed from a wax museum. The cover was so popular, it was immediately copied by many other bands and rock groups.  In addition, Sgt. Pepper was the first, the very first to include the lyrics to all the songs on the album. It was such standard fare on subsequent albums by all types of bands and groups, it didn't occur to me to even wonder who did it first. The Beatles, of course. What is the saying? Imitation is the best form of flattery.

The Sound section covered the making of the music: the inspirations, the songwriting, the technical aspects of the studio work. The first two songs that were produced during this time period weren't even included on the album: "Strawberry Fields Forever" by John and "Penny Lane" by Paul. Both were about memories and experiences the lads had in Liverpool. It was decided to release these songs as a double A-side single in February just to keep the fans happy. Throughout this section are explanations of how each of the pieces were written and produced, mentioning who played what instruments and maybe what the various group members thought of it. The most elaborate description of the pieces goes to the masterpiece, "A Day in the Life", thought by many to be the Beatles' creme de la creme. For the section of the song right before the bridge portion a fifteen person orchestra is assembled in the largest room in the recording studio. With Paul and George Martin conducting, each orchestra member is given the instruction to go "from the lowest note they could play on their instrument to the highest, taking care to not play in unison, over the course of twenty-four bars." The result is the cacophony of sound like has never been recorded before. And then that last chord.  Lennon, McCartney, Starr, and Evens played the E-major chord simultaneously on three pianos and George Martin played it on the harmonium. By holding down the delay pedals and by Geoff Emerick, the recording engineer, slowly turning up the volume, the note was sustained longer than it would seem possible. In another pullout, the debate over recording in mono or stereo is explained. Sgt Pepper was the last of The Beatles albums to be recorded in both. After Pepper they mostly recorded in stereo but from the explanations, the mono versions are quite different than the stereo versions and it would be interesting to get a hold of both and listen for the differences.

The Legacy. "Sgt Pepper  was a commercial and critical success straight out of the gate. In the UK, the album was released in June 1967, and it entered the charts at No. 1 in Melody Maker (where it stayed for twenty-two weeks) and the NME." It topped the charts in the USA, Canada, Australia, Norway, Sweden, and West Germany. It went on to win four Grammy awards for Album of the Year, Best Contemporary Album, Best Engineered Album (non-Classical), and Best Album Cover. "Tom Phillips, writing for the Village Voice, called Sgt. Pepper 'a breakthrough...specifically, I think, they've turned the record-album itself into an art form.'" It certainly boosted the profile of the concept album and many other groups copied the idea from the Beatles.

But, as with all good things, there was a downside. "Sgt Pepper", NME critic Nick Kent observed, "was such an achievement that nothing could possibly follow it." Indeed after Sgt Pepper ushered in the Summer of Love, by autumn things were already starting to go wrong. Brian Epstein, their manager died of an accidental overdose, and their next project, "A Magical Mystery Tour", actually got some bad reviews. By the end of 1967, the Fab Four were starting to drift apart though they maintained a public facade for a few more years.

As the 1970s rolled on Sgt Pepper was largely looked upon as a period piece and later it was met with a Sgt. Pepper backlash by punk rockers. Poor Pepper suffered greatly in the words of the critics for years until the advent of the CD. Finally in 1987 an excellent documentary, It Was Twenty Years Ago Today accompanied by a book,  put Sgt Pepper into its context, covering not just the making of the album but the events of 1967 - 'the rosy high point of the sixties'" Sgt. Pepper was back in vogue.
Charles Shaar Murray, writing for Q, reviewed the album at this time and said, "Sgt. Pepper has been both hailed as rock's definitive masterpiece and attacked as the incarnation of the moment when music went off the rails almost for good." But he went on to recognize its historical importance, "The sheer sonic ingenuity deployed on these sessions taught everybody, for better or worse, to hear music differently...Like it or not, it was the record which changed the rules."

And now? Where does Sgt. Pepper stand? On the 2012 Rolling Stones's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time" list, Sgt. Pepper took top billing. The magazine hailed Sgt. Pepper as "the most important rock and roll album ever made, an unsurpassed adventure in concept, sound, songwriting, cover art, and studio technology by the greatest rock and roll group of all time." I guess, to answer my own question, I'd say it landed on top!

Though I was pretty critical of the book, especially the uneven writing, I really did learn a lot from reading it and I'm glad that I own Sgt. Pepper at Fifty: the Mood, the Look, the Sound, the Legacy of the Beatles' Great Masterpiece. Now I have a reference source I can refer to in future years when my next bout of Beatlemania crops up!

Monday, May 7, 2018

Six Degrees of Separation---Poisonwood Bible to...


Six Degrees of Separation. 
We begin with
Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
This is honestly one of my favorite books by a favorite author. Set in Africa in the 1950s and 1960s, it deals with the themes of colonialism, religion, family relations, and cultural acceptance.

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
Like I said, she is my favorite author. I could just put all her books on this list and call it good. This one is also set during the similar time period, the 1950s but this one deals with the themes of homosexuality, communism, McCarthyism. It is set in both American and Mexico. The plot is so intricate and yet so vast. A book one can truly immerse yourself in.

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
Back to Africa. The themes of this book are isolation, coming-of-age, religion, cultural pride, and personal power. This is another book one can get completely lost in the story. It is powerful in its message, too.

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
This list is ending up being a list of my favorite books. This is another book about human connections and unity. Set in Ireland and the United States. It takes the kernel of a true story about the man who walked between the Twin Towers as they were being built in the 1970s. An intricately plotted book with a lot of heart.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
An extremely emotional book about a boy who is looking and grieving for his dad, a victim of the attack on the World Trade Center on 9-11.

The History of Love by Nicole Kraus
Written by Foer's wife at the same time as the above book. I read the books one after the other and can't decide which I love more. "The History of Love" is the title of a book within the book.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
The only YA title of the lot. There is a favorite book within the book which drives a good deal of the plot. John Green is my favorite YA author. That brings me around to where I started...

Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kinsolver
Authored by a favorite writer.

I had no idea when I started this list that I would end here.
Join in the fun. Make your own Six Degrees of Separation list.

Hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Sunday Salon, May 6

Bird's nest on our porch. If you look carefully at the first photo you can see the nest peeking out of the top of the wreath.
Weather: Lovely spring weather, with light showers predicted but temperatures in the 60s.

Update on my father: My mom was finally able to get my dad into a care facility and the physical therapy has begun. When I spoke to my mom on Friday, she sounded relieved and said that she thought dad was doing well, even walking a few steps with minimal assistance.

Update on my health: I seem to be emerging from the malaise that settled over me with this cold/allergies/cough thing I have been struggling with for two three weeks. Hopefully my ears will clear before we fly to New York the end of this week.

Good news: Carly, our soon-to-be graduate, made a trip out West this week to interview for a position in Tacoma and to visit a site in San Francisco where she'd already been offered a job. With a little salary negotiation, she accepted the job in San Fran. We are so proud of her.

Long, lost friend: I drove down to Vancouver to visit two college friends on Monday. I haven't spent much time with Jan since some time in the early 1980s, over thirty years ago. It was so good to reconnect. And what has taken us so long? We live only two hours apart? Anne Marie and I reconnected last year at this time, and it is always nice to spend time with her. Love you both!

Flower pots planted: for Mother's Day, Don usually gives me a day of planting flowers in the pots after a visit to a local nursery. Since we will be gone for Mother's Day this year, Don and I went out yesterday and bought enough plants to fill up ten pots and then we spent the afternoon planting them. For those of you who don't live in the PacNW, it always seems so late when we can finally get the plants set out, but our nights are usually quite cold, so our soil doesn't warm up enough to plant annuals until mid-May, and sometimes that is too early. Thanks, Don, for my Mother's Day gift!

Book overload: Hilariously four books and six audiobooks all arrived at the library after being on hold for months. I am not sure why this always seems to happen but now I am facing an untenable situation to try and read/listen to too many books in a short three weeks. The list:
  1. Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Penelope Baglieu. I should finish this one first since it is a graphic novel about famous/not-so-famous women throughout history. I hope to be a judge for the Cybils again and it is likely that this will be one of the books under consideration. Print.
  2. Thunder Head by Neal Shusterman. Sequel to a Printz honor book, Scythe, I have been waiting for this book for two months. Now that it is here will I have the fortitude to just dig in and read it? Print.
  3. The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan. I've heard wonderful things about this YA novel. Print.
  4. Americanized: Rebel Without a Green Card by Sara Saedi. Another potential Cybils nonfiction selection. Of the four print books, this is the least interesting to me, at least on the surface. Print.
  5. The Bear and the Nightingale by Kate Arden. Many bloggers have recommended this book. I placed it on hold months ago, and now it has arrived with a batch of other audiobooks. I'm guessing this one will go back on my hold list. Audio.
  6. Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood. I can't even remember anything I've heard about this book other than it is authored by one of my favorites. Audio.
  7. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. This is a re-read for me but one I need to listen to again for an upcoming book club. I am actually around 50% completed. Audio.
  8. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. I actually requested this book a week ago when I had nothing in the wings for a next audiobook. This book is on my Classics Club list but since it isn't in demand, I will send it back and request it again some other day. Audio.
  9. Less by Andrew Sean Greer. The recent Pulitzer Prize winner and an upcoming book club selection. This book is up next. Audio.
  10. The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty. See note on Stranger in a Strange Land. Same. Audio.
Books completed this week:
  1. Devotions: Selected Poems of Mary Oliver. I've been working on this 400+ page poetry collection since January. Loved every minute. Print.
  2. Sgt Pepper at Fifty: The Mood, the Look, the Sound, the Legacy of the Beatles' Great Masterpiece. I bought this last year in the midst of my own personal Beatlemania stage. Not especially well-written but I did learn quite a bit. Print.
  3. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. A YA book written in verse about a young Dominican-American who has a hard time communicating with her mother. Print.
  4. Gulp: Adventures of the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach. I started this book three years ago and finally got back to it. Interesting and gross information about everything related to digestion. Did you know that it is likely that Elvis died of constipation? Audio.
Birds: The hummingbirds have returned. I thought I killed them by leaving the food out too long so it got moldy. This year we have a pair of Anna's Hummingbirds, a male and a female. A sweet little bird, I think it is a house finch, has made a nest on our porch. I just checked. She is still faithfully sitting on her eggs and gets so put out with us every time we come and go from our own front door.

Best guitar solo EVER? Who knows. Maybe it is. I am not sure how I avoided seeing this video taken at the Rock and Roll Hall of Frame ceremony honoring George Harrison in 2004 after his death. It features so many famous people, several now dead themselves. Keep watching all the way to the end for Prince's solo. OMG. So good.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko is a sweeping saga of a family which takes place first in occupied-Korea and then in Japan from the early 20th century to the late 1980s. The story chronicles the lives of four generations in one family beginning with Yeongdo, a poor but industrious woman who marries a crippled man. They live in a small fishing village in southern Korea. Their only surviving child is a girl, Sunja. She is also very industrious, helping her mother run a boarding house after her father's death. When Sunja is 16 she is seduced by a married man. Pregnant and desperate, Sunja agrees to marry a kindly Presbyterian pastor who knows of her plight and is willing to raise the child as his own. Soon after they wed the pair immigrate to Japan to join Isak's brother and his wife in Osaka, Japan. Noah is born soon after they arrive.

Several years later another boy is born, Mozasu. WWII is raging and Koreans are not well-liked by the Japanese. Isak is rounded up because he is attending a rally and he is thrown in jail. The family is not allowed to visit him and they fear he will die before they see him again. Sunja and her sister-in-law are forced, by necessity, to make money and they make kimchi and candy to sell on the street. When Isak is finally released from jail, after being detained for several years, he is almost unrecognizable. Noah, who is home alone when Isak returns, "can't take his eyes off his father for fear he will disappear."

Noah is a scholar and wishes more than anything that he could become a Japanese citizen. Mozasu is not a good student and is constantly getting into fights at school due to the taunts from bullies aimed at him for his ethnicity. He finally talks his mother into allowing him to drop out and to go and work at the local pachinko parlor.

Pachinko is a slot-machine type game which is popular in Japan. Koreans, who are shut-out of opportunities to work in every sector of Japanese society, often find employment at the pachinko parlors and can, if they work hard enough, become wealthy this way. Mozasu does well and is promoted up to the position of manager as a young age. He also seems to be able to resist the temptations to become a thug, which is very common in the profession. He marries a nice girl and they have a son, named Solomon by his uncle, the family patriarch. (The reader will learn very little about the actual game of pachinko, though the game gives the book its title.)

Solomon, like his uncle Noah, is a good student, but unlike his uncle he is able to attend college in the USA. When he returns to Japan, Solomon naively thinks that his schooling and his skills will shield him from the discrimination against his Korean heritage. But he too finds that this isn't the case.

Krys Lee, writing for the NYT Book Review says this about the novel,
"Like most memorable novels Pachinko resists summary. In this sprawling book, history itself is a character. Pachinko is about outsiders, minorities and the politically disenfranchised. But it is so much more besides. Each time the novel seems to find its locus — Japan’s colonization of Korea, World War II as experienced in East Asia, Christianity, family, love, the changing role of women — it becomes something else. It becomes even more than it was. Despite the compelling sweep of time and history, it is the characters and their tumultuous lives that propel the narrative. Small details subtly reveal the characters’ secret selves and build to powerful moments."
I listened to the audio version of Pachinko read expertly by Allison Hiroto. The audiobook is over 18 hours long.  I lived with the family for weeks. Every time the audiobook started in the car I was transported to Korea or Japan to live a little inside the characters in the story. My favorite bits of the tale were those where the aspects of the unique cultures were described. Small and trivial details related to food, sleeping, clothing, and interactions ignite my imagination and bring their lives into clearer focus.
"In this haunting epic tale, no one story seems too minor to be briefly illuminated. Lee suggests that behind the facades of wildly different people lie countless private desires, hopes and miseries, if we have the patience and compassion to look and listen" (NYT).
Themes related to honor, the role of women, segregation and discrimination as populated the pages. This will be great fodder for our book club discussion later this month. As the 18 hours of listening was coming to an end, I worried a little that there could be no good resolution to this family's story but I assure you that the ending is very satisfying. As the book credits were being read I felt like a foreign exchange student who was very unhappily having to go home after a rewarding and an exciting cultural exchange program abroad. It was an experience that will change me forever.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Sunday Salon, April 29, 2018

Weather: Sunbreaks. One minute it is sunny, the next it looks like it will rain.

Three weeks: I haven't posted in Sunday Salon for the past three weeks. A lot has been happening. Here is my update...

Family health: My dad had a stroke Thursday night. My mother initially thought it was a little one, another TIA one like he has had before, so she didn't call for an ambulance. Now it appears it was larger than she thought and taking care of him is proving to be a big challenge. My sisters are with my parents now as they try to decide how to proceed. I am not with them because I have a humdinger of a cold with a nasty cough. I don't want to give this to my father. It might kill him. Don is off at Walgreens right now buying me some cough syrup. In an awkward moment in church today while Don asked for prayers for my father, I started coughing and so no one could here what he was saying.

Tulips: Don and I spent last Wednesday up in the Skagit Valley enjoying the tulips which are blooming fairly late this year. Aren't the photos lovely? The tulip fields are so lovely and colorful it is almost impossible to take it all in.

Renewing friendships: With all the problems that we have learned about Facebook and how they gave away our private information which was used by the Russian propaganda machine, I confess that I don't want to give it up. Why? Because, thanks to the networking possible with Facebook, I have reconnected with old friends. Tomorrow I will be lunching with two sorority sisters, Janet and Anne Marie. I haven't seen Janet for at least thirty years. Lunch and coffee date, walks and visits...it has been fun reconnecting with so many friends. Thanks Theo, Carol, Margaret, Kay, and MaryJo.

Double tulips with hyacinths and grape hyacinths 
Book club reorganization: Two months ago I griped here about a club meeting where only three people showed up. The three of us talked about ways we could/should proceed. We put the idea forward to invite some new members and offer a chance for those who want out to leave without it being awkward for them. So far we have three new members and one gal has suspended her membership. I already feel some new energy. After ten+ years I guess it is OK to change things up a bit. I'm guessing it is rare to have a static group which has been together as long as we have.

What have I finished reading the past three weeks?
  • The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian's Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman---I  really enjoyed this book about a phenomenal artist and scientist who lived in the 1600s. The book's target audience is upper elementary or middle school students, but I think all adults will love it, too. Click on the title which is hyperlinked for my review. Print.
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jezmyn Ward---I had started this book several months ago and had to return it to the library before finishing it. This time I got the audiobook, which worked much better for me. It is really a remarkable book but so depressing about the effects of racism and poverty on a bi-racial family. The ghosts of slavery keep haunting us for sure. Hyperlinked. Audio.
  • The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe---Based on a real person, Dita Kraus, who spent part of her time as a prisoner in Auschwitz as the school's librarian. If the Nazis knew they had books, they would have been killed. Another book which I had had to return to the library in February and when I got it back, I had to jump in mid-book and try to catch the thread. It is very good, if not a bit long. Hyperlinked. YA. Print.
  • Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan---set during WWII, Anna is a civilian diver for the US Navy. Not sure why people are so high on this one. I thought it was fine but not one I will recommend to others. Audio.
  • The Shakespeare Timeline Wallbook by Christopher Lloyd. So fun. Contains a huge 6-foot poster with highlights of all 37 plays, and then a newpaper-type text of important moments related to Shakespeare's works over the ages. Hyperlinked. Print.
  • A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Wiss---the children's book highlighted by John Oliver in response to Mike Pence's children's book about his bunny. This book is about two male bunnies who fall in love and want to get married. Print.
  • Pachinko by Min Jin Lee---the story of a Korean family over fifty years and a move to Japan. I lived and breathed this book for 16 hours, the length of time it took to listen to the audiobook. My favorite bits were the cultural references. A book club selection. Audio.
What books did I have to return to the library unfinished?
  • The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin---I finished only three or four chapters before this e-book returned itself to the library. I have requested it again and am back in line.
  • Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump by Michael Isikoff and David Corn---I got about half way through this book, which is full of so many details of the way that Russia messed with our elections and the touches that were made by them with the Trump campaign. I could only read it in small portions and could never read it right before bed. When the print book was due at the library, and I wasn't allowed to renew it, I returned it and thanked it for being a good book, but I won't finish it.
What am I currently reading now?
  • The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement---essays by Taylor Branch, a civil rights historian. I've lost my momentum on this book but still hope to finish it. (Print, 45%)
  • Devotions: Selected Poems by Mary Oliver---I am delightedly making my way through this tome of a book by my favorite poet. No rush. If I read a few a day, I am doing good. (Print, 76%)
  • Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach---one of my favorite nonfiction authors tackles the topic of everything having to do with digestion. In her typical style she entertains as well as educates. This is another book that I started at an earlier date, had to set aside, and am finally getting back to it. Audio. 40%
  • The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo---a YA book, written in verse about a Dominican-American girl who likes to communicate through poetry. Print. 33%.
  • Sgt Pepper at Fifty: The Mood, the Look, the Sound, the Legacy of the Beatles' Great Masterpiece by Mike McInnerney, Bill DeMain, and Gillian Gaar---no, my personal Beatlemania trip is not over. I watched the video about the making of the album, now I'm reading the book. Print. 20%.

What is Ian up to? Our little grandson is growing so fast. Every day he is learning something new and it is such a joy to watch it unfold right before my eyes. He is very close to figuring out how to crawl, he still doesn't like eating solid food, loves books, balls, and singing.

I took this photo after we got back from an hour walk. It was 80 degrees outside and we were both hot and sweaty.
Movies: We upgraded our cable service so Don and I have been watching more movies lately, as they are easier to find and access. We've watched mostly comedies: "Ghostbusters: Answer the Call"; "The Heat"; "Pitch Perfect 2"; "Table 19"; and one drama, "Fences".

Godspeed: Women's Bible study is exploring the concept of moving at godspeed, a slow enough pace of life that it is possible to make human contact with our neighbors and other people in our "parish". I am really feeling challenged. This is a poem that we contemplated this week:
"Another morning and I wake with thirst for the goodness I do not have. I walk out to the pond and all the way God has given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord, I was never a quick scholar but sulked and hunched over my books past the hour and the bell; grant me, in your mercy, a little more time. Love for the earth and love for you are having such a long conversation in my heart. Who knows what will finally happen or where I will be sent, yet already I have given a great many things away, expecting to be told to pack nothing, except the prayers which, with this thirst, I am slowly learning." Thirst, Mary Oliver
Prayers for: My dad and his health and my mother as his caretaker. // My daughter will be deciding this week between two jobs. Life is moving fast for her right now.