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Saturday, August 8, 2020

Book Review: Displacement by Kiku Hughes

One day Kiku is shocked to find herself having jumped back in time to the 1940s from now. It happens again. And again. She starts to think this is interesting and even cool--she sees her grandmother as a teenager and feels like she could start to get to know her, when it takes a dark turn. She is rounded up along with other Japanese-Americans into an internment camp. And this time she doesn't jump back.

Instead she lives in the camp, near her grandmother but not interacting with her. She experiences what life was like then, as do we, the readers, who feel fully immersed in the experience as well. As Kiku starts to come to grips with the idea that she might be stuck in this era forever, she stops going along with the rules as much, and pushing back against an unfair, racist society.  She knows how things will turn out for America, and that she's on the right side of history, but she doesn't know how her actions will affect her personally and the others she's gotten to know in the camps. Also, will she ever get back to now?

This book is published by First Second, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Book Review: When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams

When Terry's mother was dying, she told Terry she was leaving her journals to her. She had 54 of them, one for every year of her life. But Terry had to promise not to read them until after she died.

After her death, Terry reached to them for comfort, and she found... nothing. Nothing. They were blank. All of them. She bought one every year and kept them all on a shelf. What did it mean? What did it mean that she gave them to Terry? And now in 54 short essays and meditations, Terry looks at her life, her mother's life, and tries to make sense of the world.

First of all, I have to say WOW, Terry is SO much more understanding and resigned to this situation that I would have been. I would have been utterly furious. I imagine a lot of screaming, "how dare she!" It's one thing to have pretended to keep a journal. After all, they're Mormon, and that's expected of all women, regardless of whether they actually want to, if they find it helpful, or if it's a burden to them. But to tell Terry they were especially for her and to  make her promise not to read them until after she's dead, and leave no explanation--that's really cavalier with Terry's feelings at the worst time in her life. 

That being said, if you can get past the origin of this book, the essays are beautiful. Ms. Williams is a terrific writer, who loves the environment and the nature surrounding us. She takes inspiration from her mother's lack of voice, and gives her voice back to her. Using the recurring metaphor of women as birds, she ties it all together. It was a quick read and definitely worth it. I've heard of writers and writing classes using this book and that makes sense to me. 

This book is published by Picador, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Book Review: Becoming by Michelle Obama


I wanted to read this book when it first came out like everyone under the sun. But I heard the audiobook was the way to go. And it's (just) over nineteen hours. Which just has been too much of a commitment for me to make until now. Now, instead of going to the gym, I'm walking for 2 hours 4 days a week, which meant I could finally tackle it without worrying it would take me so long to finish that I'd have forgotten the beginning by then! (Also, because I knew it would take me more than 2 weeks to listen, I couldn't get it through my library. I had to purchase it.)

Michelle has a fairly ordinary growing up, if rather poor. On the infamous South Side of Chicago she lived in a small apartment with her parents and older brother Craig, in a little house owned by her aunt and uncle. She took piano lessons, eventually went to a better school, and followed her brother to Princeton, where he'd won a basketball scholarship (despite her school counselor telling her she couldn't get in to Princeton.) I was very struck by a comment made by Michelle's mother after Barack was elected, when she was asked about how Michelle was a special child. Her mother said she wasn't special. She said, there are hundreds of kids just like Michelle and Craig on the South Side--we just aren't looking for them. And I can see that. Which isn't to say that Michelle isn't brilliant and accomplished and impressive--she's all those things and more. But truly, there was nothing exceptional about her that made you think she'd end up in the White House. If she was in my book club or I worked with her, that would make sense. She's so accessible and down-to-earth, and Everywoman.

She did work hard and her accomplishments are laudatory, and I'm no longer annoyed that she didn't do more as First Lady, as I once was. She was trying to find a good balance, her kids were young, her job wasn't something she could keep doing, and she did do a lot with nutrition and health for kids. In fact, she did a lot more than I knew, along with Jill Biden, from getting food vendors who sell to schools to provide better options, to getting the parent company of Olive Garden to offer more low-calorie options. 

I kept waiting for a moment to happen when she was shocked by what was happening and that never did occur. But that also makes sense. Everything was incremental. The road the White House was built in many small steps over years. That realization makes it seem much more like truly, anyone can be president. With Barack's books, it seems he saw the path laid out more clearly and earlier on than she did, but there wasn't ever a point where she would've said, "Wait, that's crazy!" 

Meanwhile, there are gowns and celebrity sightings, and backstage details. It was inspiring, and right now a real kick in the head, too. Man, what a classy, smart, together family we once had in the White House. We really let them down in the last election. It's nice to remember how great they were but also sad in comparison.

I bought this audiobook digitally from Libro.fm. 

Saturday, August 1, 2020

My Month in Review: July

The Month in Review meme is hosted by Nicole at Feed Your Fiction Addiction.

I note the non-Macmillan books in this post with a star.

Books completed this month:
When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams
Greek to Me: Adventures of the Comma Queen by Mary Norris*
Why Fish Don't Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life by Lulu Miller*
Broken (In the Best Possible Way) by Jenny Lawson 
Even the Stiffest People Can Do the Splits: A 4-Week Stretching Plan to Achieve Amazing Health by Eiko*
Becoming by Michelle Obama (audio)*
Buses Are a Comin': Memoir of a Freedom Rider by Charles Person, with Richard Rooker

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Check, Please!, Book 2: Sticks and Scones by Ngozi Ukazu
Love Is for Losers by Wibke Brueggemann
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein (audio)*

What I acquired this month (non-work books):
none. I was good! Also I am moving and the last thing I wanted to move was more books.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Book Review: Greek to Me: Adventures of the Comma Queen by Mary Norris

Mary tried to learn Latin as a child but her father opposed her learning a "dead" language. As an adult, she pursued Greek with abandon. Her job at the New Yorker would pay for continuing ed, so she was able to expense her initial classes, but when she started studying Ancient Greek, as opposed to contemproary (which are pretty completely different languages), they balked. After some help, that went through and she not only pursued the learning (complete with acting in a couple of Ancient Greek plays, in Greek), but of course had to go to Greece.

She prefers to travel alone, especially as her travel style isn't compatible with many people's. She prefers to do absolutely everything it is possible to do and see in a place. She's not good at sitting by a pretty place and just relaxing.

But she is an excellent companion for this armchair traveler! I have long aspired to visit Greece but I haven't managed it so far, and I think when I finally do, I'll have to reference this book as she has some places she really enjoys. I was thrilled to see that she visited The Parthenon in Nashville, my hometown, and she liked it! Its' hard to describe to people how a life-sized Pathernon, made of aggregate instead of marble, in the middle of a park in Tennessee, can be impressive and not kitschy. Few people believe you until they see it for themselves. She was a doubter. 

If you have any love of language, any dreams of visiting Greece, this was a delightful and fun read. I truly enjoyed it.

I bought this book at Quail Ridge Books, an independent bookstore.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Book Review: Inferno: A Memoir of Motherhood and Madness by Catherine Cho

Catherine Cho never placed much credence in her parents' Korean superstitions. So when she and her husband had a baby boy and coincidentally,  just after they had the opportunity to come back from England for an extended trip around the US to introduce their son to friends and family, it made sense. Her parents were horrified as he wasn't 100 days old yet. Also she hadn't subscribed to the myths about staying in bed for the first 21 days and all that goes with that.

At first, the trip went great. They began on the West Coast and drove East. In Virginia, where Catherine is from, things started to be uncomfortable, but she thought that was due to her family who were never comfortable people to be around, in the best of times. Then at her in-law's in New Jersey, she saw the devil in her baby's eyes. Next thing she knew, she woke up in a locked ward.

The storytelling goes back and forth, explaining Catherine's childhood, an abusive relationship she was in before, and what life was like on the ward for her now. She pieced back together, from medical notes and her husband's recollections, what happened that last bad few days that caused her family to have her committed. And she had to piece things back together, if she ever wanted to put her life back together, and go back home.

Certainly there are some shadows of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Awakenings, but Catherine's story is purely her own. We've all known someone who's struggled with postpartum depression, but postpartum psychosis is something else. And she tells it so amazingly, it's shocking to realize that the person who was once so unhinged, is the same person reconstruction those events so beautifully. Insanity is such an incredibly hard thing to write from first person (although as a reader, that's the best way to understand it) and it reminded me a little of Jill McCorkle's The Cheer Leader which is my gold standard for that. Gives you an incredible amount of empathy and sympathy for people who go through this, and an understanding as to why there's such a stigma. The ending, with Catherine now suffering debilitating periods of depression, probably for the rest of her life, is melancholy, but realistic. This book reminds me why I love memoirs so much. This was a riveting story but one I would never, ever want to live through.

This book is published by Henry Holt, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Book Review: March Sisters: On Life, Death, and Little Women by Kate Bolick, Jenny Zhang, Carmen Maria Machado, and Jane Smiley (audiobook)

This is a short book of four essays, one focusing on each of the four March sisters in Little Women, by four prominent women authors of today. 

My favorite was Jane Smiley. Some of the other essays I felt had anachronisms and were not always considering the world of the later 1800s--they were often forcing the morals and feminism of today on a different century which isn't fair. But that was rare. Ms. Smiley was the one writer who really did not do that. It also made me rethink the character of Amy somewhat, which I'd already started doing after the most recent movie adaptation. 

And the essay on Beth was interesting in pointing out that as idealized as Beth was, that's problematic in its own way. She wasn't allowed to be a three-dimensional person like her real-life counterpart, Lizzie. 

Meg was the boring sister when we all ready this book as tweens/teens, but now, I think I am a Meg. She shouldn't be dismissed so lightly as she tends to be by younger readers, as she's the stable, stalwart one who follows her heart.

Finally, Jo. Beloved Jo. Frustrating Jo. Jo who stands in for the author. Jo who most young girls identify with initially. I don't want to say too much about her, but the essay rings very true.

This was super enjoyable, a short read (or listen) and if you're at all a fan, you will love it.

I downloaded this digital audiobook from my local library via Libby/Overdrive.