Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Healer, by Carol Cassella

I'm interested in medicine; I'm interested in ethics; and yes, I'm interested in medical ethics. But I also insist that fiction give me a good story. This book is, first and foremost, exactly that, with the other themes running in the background.  It's one of those books where you find yourself wondering what the people are up to, and then remember that they aren't real.

This is Cassella's second novel; I immediately went to the library and got the first one. We won't discuss the fact that she's a practicing anesthesiologist and mother of two sets of twins and still manages to write novels!

I can't remember what source led me to this book, but if I do I'm going to go back and see what else they recommend.

Monday, September 27, 2010

From New Mexico to Key West

I'm planning a family vacation in Key West during the semester break, so I've started looking at what novels feature that location. I've read (and probably should re-read) Nevada Barr's Flashback, and I've just put in requests for the first of Randy Wayne White's series featuring Doc Ford, and the first in the Alex Rutledge series by Tom Corcoran. Anyone read these? Or have other suggestions?

Friday, September 24, 2010

I swear I'm not a blog hog

but I couldn't resist sharing the 5 meanest book reviews ever.

Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout

I stayed up last night to finish "Olive Kitteridge," by Elizabeth Strout. Being unable to sleep without devouring the rest of the book is a reliable sign that I loved said book, which I did. It's a good thing, too, because I do have the annoying habit of not always liking books that get a lot of buzz or that are recommended to me by a lot of people whose opinions I trust. (See, e.g., "The Guernsey Literary...." and "Lovely Bones")

"Olive Kitteridge" is a series of thirteen interrelated stories set in a small town in Maine. They are organized in chronological order. In all of them, Olive is a character, although she sometimes appears as the main character and at other times is more peripheral. But throughout them all, we learn about another facet of Olive's character and personality. I tend not to gravitate toward short stories, but these are so beautifully written, and they are linked so well, that this really is an example of how a book can effortlessly straddle both the novel genre and the short story genre.

At first I didn't really like Olive. In one story in particular, she exhibits a cruelty that I found baffling. But as the story wore on, and her personality become more faceted, I came to like her. Strout does a great job of showing how Olive's experiences have shaped her, and it's hard not to admire Olive's moxie, even as Strout alludes to Olive's shortcomings as a person, particularly with regard to her role as wife and mother. By the end, I was rooting for Olive, and without including any spoilers, let's just say the last chapter/story nearly brought me to tears (in a good way).

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dark and Stormy Nights

Last night I finished (and loved—why have I not read this book before?!) Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables. I thought his (very long!) descriptions of the setting and characters were quite wonderful. I enjoyed the gloomy old house and family curse so much that I’m planning to stick with a gothic theme for the month of October. Next up is going to be a re-read of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Edith Wharton's ghost stories, and an A. S. Byatt book of short stories entitled the Little Black Book of Short Stories, whose back cover promises “shivers”. Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is an old favorite that I read every other year or so around Halloween. While I make it a point to avoid reading anything truly horrifying, I do love just a bit of old fashioned spookiness this time of year.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Help

Elizabeth sent me the Bates reading list earlier in the summer, and I browsed through it. One of the books on many of the individual lists was The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, so I ordered it through the library and dived right in, knowing little about it. It is a novel about colored maids in the South in the 1960's. I found it to be a fascinating and compelling story. I have since read a criticism of white authors writing about the black experience (as in this case), but I think Stockett does a wonderful job of pulling the reader in to the lives of both black and white. It was my favorite kind of book, one I had trouble putting down.

I think part of my interest was from my experience: my mother, who is from the South, brought a young black woman to our home in the Midwest to be our maid and a nanny to my brother and I when I was a baby (1959-1960). My mother reports that she even had a maid's uniform for her, complete with a little white cap. I don't have any memory of it (she was only with us for a year), but I've seen some pictures, and I know the woman now. My mother moved back to her hometown in the Outer Banks and hired this same woman (now 70) to clean for her.

Banned Books Week is coming up

It's just come to my attention that Banned Books Week begins this Saturday, Sept. 25th and goes through October 2d. The official website is here. I was pretty fortunate as a kid; my parents really didn't pay much attention to what I was reading. As a result, I was able to go the library and pick out whatever I wanted. I like to think that I've turned out just fine, too, although perhaps those of you who know me personally may disagree...

It seems like book banning was invented shortly after the printing press was invented, and I'm not sure it's even possible to create an exhaustive list of books that have been banned. Some notable titles include:

  • The Catcher in the Rye
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Twilight
  • Harry Potter books
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • The Color Purple
  • Charlotte's Web
  • Lolita
  • Invisible Man
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls
  • The Age of Innocence
  • Schindler's List
  • O Pioneers
I'm going to do my best to read a banned or challenged book in honor of Banned Books Week. I haven't decided which one yet, but unfortunately there is no shortage of books, ranging from picture books to classics, and I'll be sure to post my reaction when I do. By poking around the Banned Books Week website, you can find lots of lists of books that have been banned or challenged.

What am I reading right now?

I'm on a roll now, reading a series of New Mexico-based mysteries by Michael McGarrity.

How did I get there? By reading Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon mysteries, then all the C.J. Box mysteries featuring Joe Pickett, a game warden in Wyoming; then Christine Kling's books about a female boat salvage owner, Seychelle Sullivan, set in Florida; and before all those, Sarah Graves' Eastport, Maine mysteries. All thanks to Amazon and Novelist.

Where do I go from here, when I finish the McGarrity books? Seeking adventure, travel, and strong characters (preferable female). Doesn't have to be a mystery, but I'm enjoying that genre right now.

my favorite reading list

My all-time favorite reading list, published annually, is the Summer Reading List put together by the manager of the Bates College Bookstore. It goes on for pages and pages and pages, and is compiled from submissions by people associated with Bates: faculty, administrators, other employees, students, and graduates. Some people just submit a title; others write an essay about why they chose the book. Here is the link to the lists from 2003 to 2010. Thank you, Sarah! And now that you all have something to read, I think I'll go find a book.


Welcome to The Plumsock Road Book Club

Where is Plumsock Road? I have never driven down Plumsock Road -- it's a road I pass on the way from here to there. It seemed a fine virtual location for our virtual book club.

This group consists of women all over the country (so far -- we may soon go international) who love books and love to talk about books. This is a place to write about a book you've read, ask for recommendations, and hang out with other women who like to read.

We'll see how it develops.