Wednesday, September 30, 2015

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Golden Age

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Golden Age: A novel by Jane Smiley

Synopsis from Goodreads: 
From the Pulitzer Prize-winner: the much-anticipated final volume of her magnificent, best-selling American trilogy, which brings the beloved Langdon family into our present times and beyond.

A lot can happen in 100 years, as Jane Smiley has shown to dazzling effect in her astonishing, critically acclaimed Last Hundred Years Trilogy. When Golden Age, its last installment, opens in 1987, the next generation of the Langdon family is facing economic, social, cultural, and political challenges unlike anything their ancestors had encountered before. Richie and Michael, the rivalrous twin sons of Frank, the golden son and World War II hero, have grown into men, and the wild antics of their youth slide seamlessly into a wilder adulthood in finance on Wall Street and in government in Washington, D.C. Charlie, the mysterious young man we met in Early Warning who was revealed to be an unknown son of the Langdon clan, adds light and joy to the family, but gets caught up in the tragedy of the 9/11 attacks. Meanwhile, back on the family's Iowa homestead, the rich soil, tilled since 1920 when patriarch Walter planted his corn and oats, has been eroded by decades of continuous farming and now is threatened by climate change. Throughout the three decades that this novel comprises, with Smiley gazing into her crystal ball toward 2019 at its conclusion, we see how the Langdon children we've come to know and love--Frank, Joe, Lillian, Henry, and Claire--make room as adults for their own children and grandchildren as they face an uncertain future.

Taking us through events monumental and quotidian, personal, national, and international, in a breathtaking mix of suspense and nostalgia, character and atmosphere, Golden Age brings an enduring portrait of a single remarkable family to a triumphant end, even as it raises a beloved American author to new heights.

Publishing October 20, 2015 by Knopf.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Book Review: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

This book came out when I was one year old. I remember the title. I'm sure it was on dozens of summer reading lists and other reading lists, but I never read it. And then my book club picked it. (We read two middle grade books, this one and Wonder.)

Winnie lives on the end of the village in the largest house, and she hangs out behind the tall fence all day, bored and hot. One day a strange man is hanging out by the gate. And she hears what her grandmother calls fairy music. She thinks she might run away the next day, just for something to do. But the next day, she meets the Tucks. And learns of their magical secret. And they have to kidnap her so they can take her home and explain everything to her, so she'll understand why she has to keep their secret for them. And they are so nice to her that she doesn't mind at all. She learns a lot from them in just one day. And then everything goes terribly wrong.

I think as a kid, I wasn't much into magic. Yes, I read The Wizard of Oz and the King Arthur tale, but I still wasn't a big magic person. I much preferred straightforward realistic stories. So that would be the main reason I wasn't interested in this book. I also preferred contemporary stories to historicals, although I read them too. I think the key was that, unlike Oz and King Arthur, this book mixed the fantastical and magical in a way that made me uncomfortable. I wanted my books with magic in them to be so far-fetched that there was no question about whether or not it could really happen. And there was also a hint of menace, even in the dark cover illustration, that I was uncomfortable with. I liked dark books, too, but a magical dark book could go to really ugly places that I would prefer not to.

As an adult, you see books like these so much more clearly. You can no longer be enraptured and live in the moment of the book, but you also can't be so disturbed by the bad things that happen. You can also be a little concerned by the casual attitude towards kidnapping, and curious about the parents' seeming neglect and near-nonexistence in the book (I didn't realize Winnie had a father until the very end.) I can see how this would be a very powerful book, although emotionally it didn't do much for me now. The writing was beautiful and I would reread descriptions to fully absorb the language. I think I would have liked this book as a kid, but alas, I'll never know.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I bought this book at Octavia Books in New Orleans.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Book review: The Race for Paris by Meg Waite Clayton

I am tired of WWII books. And this fact makes my review of this book unfair. I was not in the right state of mind for it. This book was better than I enjoyed it.

I was drawn to this book by, of all things, a connection to Nashville (my hometown). The narrator, Jane, is a reporter for The Nashville Banner (the afternoon paper which my family used to get until it folded in the 1990s.) and her mother works for the owners of the paper, who are also the owners of the Belle Meade Mansion, the biggest and fanciest of the former plantation houses in town. Jane was sweet on their son, even though he was engaged to an Ingram girl (yes, those Ingrams, book people. Ingram Content Group, the biggest book wholesaler in the country.) They would go parking by the Harpeth River. All of these things were very real to me (except we don't have no-see-ums in Nashville, those bugs fortunately are much further south.) But the Nashville connection is fleeting. From the very beginning, Jane is in France, writing stories about the military hospital where she is stationed, sleeping under her bed instead of in it to protect from bombings, and wishing her assignment to cover the war in Europe were more glamorous. Then Liv arrives. A photographer married to a newspaper publisher, Liv is connected and wealthy, and determined to be the first to photograph the liberation of Paris. Jane tags along. They hook up with Fletcher, a photographer for the military intelligence, and a friend of Liv's husband. And they follow the Allies across France.

Jane's memories of Nashville didn't seem big or important enough to really be influencing her now, in France, during the war. It seemed to me like there should have been more of them and they should have been bigger, or why bother with them at all? We never got a feel for Tommy, the boy back home who was cheating on his girlfriend with Jane. In fact, we don't get much of a feel for Jane either. She seems to be there as Liv's narrator. Liv is the exciting one, the interesting one. She's the one who pushes boundaries, who is gossiped about, the one with resources. Jane is just... along for the ride (and the story.) This fact was driven home for me in a couple of scenes in the last quarter of the book between Fletcher and Liv, when Jane isn't even there. But it's a first-parson narrated story from Jane's point of view. How can Jane not be there? It's telling when your narrator is such a thin and inconsequential character that no one notices this egregious violation of perspective.

Letting that discrepancy go, I liked the story. I liked the tension of them hiding from the military police (they have gone AWOL after all, to go to the front), hiding from the fighting, hiding from Germans, yet always racing just up to the point of danger. It shows how important the newspapers were to the fight--support back home was won and lost thanks to the journalists taking photos and writing stories for the newspapers back in the U.S. Those stories and pictures didn't always tell the truth--the faces of the dead were always blurred out in pictures, especially if they were allied forces--but they were important nonetheless, bringing the war home.

Everyone is raving about this novel and if I read it at another time, I likely would have been too. I am trying very hard not to let my sick-and-tiredness over WWII affect my reading of this book but it can't help influencing it. I loved seeing the story of women disobeying orders, risking arrest, risking their lives to be on the ground, in the thick of things. In the fight for women's rights, these women were important. And gutsy and brave. You probably will enjoy this book. And I'd have enjoyed it more if I read it next year. Alas.

I checked this book out of the library.

Book Beginnings: The Race for Paris

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

The Race for Paris by Meg Waite Clayton

"The moon over the Hotel de Ville hangs as round and golden as a C ration can to complete this fairy-tale setting: the clock in the tower striking the half hour; the stone flag bearers rising above slate roofs like egrets poised for flight; and the windows, of course, all those windows leaving guests trying to remember which one, exactly, de Gaulle addressed us from--those of us old enough to remember, anyway."

It is appropriate that we get a very visual first image in this book about a photographer and a reporter trying to be the first journalists in Paris after the Allies drive out the Germans. But we start with a prologue set much later, when the journalist has returned to Paris later in life.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Book review: Capital Dames: the Civil War and the Women of Washington, 1848-1868 by Cokie Roberts

I heard Cokie Roberts on NPR talk about the inspiration behind this book. She had heard a lot--I think we all have--about how women during WWII had to work and take over the men's jobs and how crucial that was, that women worked. And it occurred to her that this probably wasn't only true during WWII. It had probably been true in all wars. As a native Washingtonian, she wanted to look at the impact of war on that city, and the Civil War made the most sense to look at. It was far enough before WWII that most people didn't think about as a comparison, and it also took more American men than any other war before or since. And she was right.

We think o f the women involved in nursing, with Clara Barton and Dorothea Dix, and it's true, they grew that field enormously among women and were considered vital to the war effort. But women worked for the Postmaster General. Women worked in the Treasury Department, cutting out currency with scissors. Often the women workers were preferred because they could be paid so much less (!), sigh. Mostly women though did what they'd always done: backstage machinations, persuasion, entertainment, lobbying (lobbyist noted they could sometimes be more effective by convincing a wife about their cause, and then letting the wife convince her husband Congressman to vote for it, than if they approached the Congressman directly).

Through letters and diaries, Ms. Roberts recreates the lives of dozens of influential women, from the famous (Mary Todd Lincoln, Julia Grant) to the less-than-famous (Elizabeth Lee) and the once-famous (Kate Chase Sprague). Some were very manipulative, some were upstanding privileged women who worked themselves to the bone to help the less fortunate, some were catty and vindictive, some were known as angels, and some were spies. All wore corsets and lived through war, some nearly starving to death.

I love learning new trivia, and I learned some excellent trivia indeed. Including a few things I ought to have already known, such as that when the Southern states were seceding, it was Buchanan who was president, not Lincoln. And that war didn't start immediately after the secession, but a few months later. I also didn't realize how cool Varina Davis was, the wife of Jefferson Davis. And along the way in these books you inevitably run across some women, like Kate Chase Sprague, who had they lived now, would have been formidable politicians in their own right, I have no doubt.

This was a fascinating glimpse into a corner of feminist history I hadn't thought about before (it was during this period that "men" was first inserted into a Constitutional amendment, the first time women were excluded. It also was when the Women's Right to Vote movement really began in force and picked up strength.) There were powerful and hard-working women in every era, but we seem to have forgotten those before our own time, which isn't fair to these strong and resourceful women. Any lover of history, or student of feminism, ought to read this book.

I checked this book out of the library.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Secret Chord

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks

Synopsis from Goodreads: 
With more than two million copies of her novels sold, New York Times bestselling author Geraldine Brooks has achieved both popular and critical acclaim. Now, Brooks takes on one of literature’s richest and most enigmatic figures: a man who shimmers between history and legend. Peeling away the myth to bring David to life in Second Iron Age Israel, Brooks traces the arc of his journey from obscurity to fame, from shepherd to soldier, from hero to traitor, from beloved king to murderous despot and into his remorseful and diminished dotage.

The Secret Chord provides new context for some of the best-known episodes of David’s life while also focusing on others, even more remarkable and emotionally intense, that have been neglected. We see David through the eyes of those who love him or fear him—from the prophet Natan, voice of his conscience, to his wives Mikal, Avigail, and Batsheva, and finally to Solomon, the late-born son who redeems his Lear-like old age. Brooks has an uncanny ability to hear and transform characters from history, and this beautifully written, unvarnished saga of faith, desire, family, ambition, betrayal, and power will enthrall her many fans.

Publishing October 6, 2015 by Viking.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Book Review: The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck

Could not be more in my wheelhouse! A stunt memoir! Set in the American West! Bringing to mind tales of Laura Ingalls Wilder! And it's funny with a cranky old guy as the author's companion a la Bill Bryson! I knew this book would be a hit with me from the moment I heard about it.

Rinker visits an Oregon rail museum and decides to travel the full length of the original trail (which, granted, has many spurs and shortcuts and alternates so it's hard to figure out exactly which route is the "official" one but that's also good because significant parts of it were paved over and are now interstates, so he needed some alternatives.) This isn't as insane an idea as it would be for you or I as he grew up in Amish country (although not himself Amish) and one summer when he was a kid, his father decided to take his whole family on a wagon trip, so it's not a surprise that the companion who eventually volunteers is his brother, Nick. He and Nick are like Oscar and Felix, which is good because they balance each other out well. They buy a wagon (and a Rinker-designed mini wagon trailer) and three mules and they start in Missouri.

Along the way they encounter many of the identical obstacles the original settlers did such as steep narrow roads over mountains and boulder-strewn areas, but they don't have to deal with malaria and other illnesses. They are unlikely to die along the way (which many, many settlers did. There is an entire book published that identifies every grave site along the route.) but they also don't have any help portaging over the extremely steep runs, like the original settlers would have. Along the way we are entertained by tales of many of the original pioneers who made their way west, with Mr. Buck taking great care in presenting stories of resourceful and hardy women travelers as well as men, many who often paved the way for other women to come west. He did a vast amount of research and reading of original sources, which is seamlessly woven throughout the story of his own trip. Naturally there does get to be a bit of repetitiveness to it, but not in a bad way. Instead, it echoes what it must be like to sit on a hard wooden bench and stare at sage grass and mules' behinds for entire days, weeks on end. The Buck brothers meet interesting characters along the way, and it's crazy how nice and helpful people are. Who knew that there are public corrals in nearly every small town in the West?

If you like travelogues, American history, or just hearing a good story of an adventure, this is a fun book. Well-written and entertaining, I dare you to not also learn a great deal along the way.

I checked this book out of the library.

Book Beginnings: The Oregon Trail

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck

"I had known long before I rode a covered wagon to Oregon that naivete was the mother of adventure."

I would very much agree with this statement. There are a lot of things we wouldn't have done, had we truly known what we were getting into at the start. But c'mon, who doesn't know that driving a covered wagon from Missouri to Oregon would be rather difficult?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Slaughterhouse 90210

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Slaughterhouse 90210 by Maris Kreizman

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Slaughterhouse 90210 pairs literature's greatest lines with pop culture's best moments.

In 2009, Maris Kreizman wanted to combine her fierce love for pop culture with a lifelong passion for reading, and so the blog Slaughterhouse 90210 was born. By matching poignant passages from literature with popular moments from television, film, and real life, Maris' work instantly caught the attention (and adoration) of thousands. And it's easy to see why.

Slaughterhouse 90210 is subversively brilliant, finding the depth in the shallows of reality television, and the levity in Lahiri. A picture of Taylor Swift is paired with Joan Didion's quote, "Above all, she is the girl who 'feels things'. The girl ever wounded, ever young." Tony Soprano tenderly hugs his teenage son, accompanied by a line from Middlemarch about, "The patches of hardness and tenderness [that] lie side by side in men's dispositions." The images and quotes complement and deepen one another in surprising, profound, and tender ways.

With over 150 color photographs from some of popular culture's most iconic moments, Kreizman shows why comparing Walter White to Faust makes sense in our celebrity obsessed, tv crazed society.

Publishing October 6, 2015 by Flatiron Books.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Review: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

I had high expectations for this book as everyone I know seems to have read it and loved it. I was in a funny situation of being at a B&B and actually running out of books to read--I had brought two which seemed sufficient for a four day trip but thanks to a rainy day and very compelling books, I plowed through them. The B&B had a lot of books of course, but I didn't want to read half of something, so I decided to read something I owned and could finish at home, which limited me to about 3 choices, and this was by far the most raved about.

I think the expectations were too high. Don't get me wrong--I liked it. But I had been lead to believe it would be amazing, and it was good. Which is still a wonderful thing to find, but I was disappointed nonetheless. Molly is a teenager in Maine, a foster kid whose foster mother doesn't like her much. She has to do community service and the boy she likes suggests she help out this old lady in town who his mother works for. She wants to go through her attic and sort everything. Naturally, while doing this, the woman, Vivian, recollects her childhood and young adulthood, and she has some similarities to Molly's situation which helps Molly see hope and a way to get through. Vivian's family was mostly all killed in a tenement fire in New York City during the Depression, and like many other orphans, she was put on a train headed west, where homesteaders needed young labor, and were willing to basically cover room and board to get it. Some of these situations worked out well (think of Anne in Anne of Green Gables) but naturally many did not.

Vivian, born Niamh (which is unnecessarily not explained until late in the book although it's obvious from the outset that Naimh will grow up to be Vivian),  ended up in four different foster situations, with varying levels of care and neglect, but eventually life did work out for her. The worst situation was almost cartoonishly bad, and the best was also nearly perfect. Bad people get their comeuppance and good people are rewarded (except for one glaring tragedy.) Molly sees the light and changes her tune. Most every twist and turn in the book, I could see coming from a mile away. I did like that Molly was part Penobscot Indian and how that was treated. And it was interesting to read about this time and place, and about these train orphans. But I wish Niamh/Vivian were more developed and some of the plot turns were more unexpected. I can see how this would make for a good book club discussion, as I know it's been a popular selection this year.

Not my favorite, but it was an easy read, very informative, with interesting themes and topics around belonging, adoption, fitting in versus staying true to yourself, and believing in hope for the future despite a difficult present.

I bought this book. Don't remember when or where as it has no sticker, but I paid for it myself.

Book Beginnings: Orphan Train

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

"I believe in ghosts. They're the ones who haunt us, the ones who have left us behind."

I suppose I might believe in them too, when I'm ninety-one and feel left behind by all my loved ones.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Book Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, read by Cassandra Campbell

I have long said that I only listen to nonfiction on audio. And I think I mostly will continue to stick to that. But I got this audiobook for free, so I figured I'd give it a shot, even though with fiction and audios, I often get distracted along the way and miss something important. Also I find they are harder to listen to in very small (5 minute) bits. So when I started listening to this, just a week before my book club, I worried I hadn't given myself enough time, as I wanted larger chunks for listening. And the day of book club came and I'd only listened to one hour. I had 9 still to go. I was never going to make it. But nonetheless, I listened to it when I walked to my personal training. And, while I like the narration, I found it overly slow and for the first time I spend up the narration to 1.25. And I listened when I walked home. And at the adjusted rate, I saw it would be possible--just barley but possible--to finish it before book club at 7:00 that night. And I made it with 5 minutes to spare (I also walked to book club and I could see the Panera when I finished the book.)

Needless to say, I liked it. I think this book benefited from being read pretty much all in one sitting. I also think it benefited from the sped-up narration. Another book club member who also listened to it, felt it dragged in the middle, which I did not experience, but I could see how, at the original speed, it could feel that way.

Lydia is dead. Don't worry, that isn't a spoiler. Although at the  beginning of the book her family thinks she is just missing, but readers know this fact. It is the late 1970s in Ohio, and sixteen-year-old Lydia's blond white mother, Marilyn; her repressed Chinese father, James; her ignored older brother, Nath; and her invisible younger sister Hannah, all try to figure out what's happened, how they got to this point, and how to deal with it. We get a lot of flashbacks, back to James's childhood, when he and Marilyn met, Marilyn's dreams for her life which are swiftly and conventionally cut off, the repercussions of their mixed-race marriage in the late 1950s which was illegal in Marilyn's home state of Virginia, and the growing-up years of the Lee family. (I particularly like the irony of the last name, which in the South conjures up ideas of Robert E. Lee, not of a Chinese fiancee, to Marilyn's mother.) This book isn't plot driven, but it about a family, their interactions, how they influence and impact each other, how the sins of the parents are revisited upon the children, and how all of this leads inexorably to Lydia's death. There is just enough story going on to keep things moving, as there's an investigation and accusations, but that isn't the point. If you like your books character-driven, this is the book for you.

It's an interesting time in America and an interesting family to see in that time, and while the outcome may be tragic, it also is a story about hope and about things improving. There are a ton of great themes and the book club discussion was terrific. It's hard to say you really enjoyed a book about the death of a teenager, but I did. This book will make you think, but it isn't a difficult book. It's perfect for the fall, with college life being a recurring setting throughout the book (James is a professor of American History.) And it's a good way to dive back into deeper books with the turning of the leaves.

I got this book for free from Goodreads/Audible through the Ford Book Club.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

“Waiting On”: The Art of Memoir

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr

Synopsis from Goodreads: 
Credited with sparking the current memoir explosion, Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club spent more than a year at the top of the New York Times list. She followed with two other smash bestsellers: Cherry and Lit, which were critical hits as well.

For thirty years Karr has also taught the form, winning graduate teaching prizes for her highly selective seminar at Syracuse, where she mentored such future hit authors as Cheryl Strayed, Keith Gessen, and Koren Zailckas. In The Art of Memoir, she synthesizes her expertise as professor and therapy patient, writer and spiritual seeker, recovered alcoholic and “black belt sinner,” providing a unique window into the mechanics and art of the form that is as irreverent, insightful, and entertaining as her own work in the genre.

Anchored by excerpts from her favorite memoirs and anecdotes from fellow writers’ experience, The Art of Memoir lays bare Karr’s own process. (Plus all those inside stories about how she dealt with family and friends get told— and the dark spaces in her own skull probed in depth.) As she breaks down the key elements of great literary memoir, she breaks open our concepts of memory and identity, and illuminates the cathartic power of reflecting on the past; anybody with an inner life or complicated history, whether writer or reader, will relate.

Joining such classics as Stephen King’s On Writing and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, The Art of Memoir is an elegant and accessible exploration of one of today’s most popular literary forms—a tour de force from an accomplished master pulling back the curtain on her craft.

Publishing September 15, 2015 by Harper.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Book review: Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

I'm a sucker for advice columns. I've been trying to kick the habit recently (except for the excellent Ask A Manager which I will never lose) when I realize how much time it was sucking away from my day. I never read Dear Sugar, though, and after reading this book, I deeply regret it. I loved this book. I. Loved. This. Book.

Sugar is so empathetic, and she listens well, and shows the writer that she has heard them and that she understands their problems and she sympathizes. She then usually relates a story from her own life that has parallels to this writer's problem. Then she points out a line or two from their letter that really seem to get to the heart of the matter, and often points out where the writer is telling Sugar that she already knows what he/she should do. Finally, she is supportive in telling the writer that he/she CAN do what it is they ought to do. She might go back to her own story and explain how going through the bad stuff makes things good afterward. The problems cover everything from addiction, abuse, unrequited love, despondency, and everything in between. Over time we even feel like we get to know Sugar herself and her family (Mr. Sugar and the little Sugars). I appreciate her openness, her passion, her supportiveness, and her willingness to say the hard things (nicely).

I wanted this book to last forever. I wanted to gobble it up in one night. I wanted to read everything through without stopping. I wanted to savor each essay and ponder them. I wanted to read them all out loud to my husband (I read about three.) I wanted the book to go on and on forever. I wanted to read letters that exactly described problems in my life. I was grateful the letters talked mostly about problems far from my own. I sent one letter and answer to a college student I mentor.

I am now very tempted to get Ms. Strayed's novel, her first book, and read it. (Although I will call it a novel loosely since it seems to mirror her family life very closely.) THANK YOU to Ellen Urbani for giving me this book! And Thank you to Cheryl Strayed for writing it.

I was given this book as a gift by Ellen Urbani at a WNBA event.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Book Review: Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland

I took ballet starting at age five, through my freshman year in college. I loved it. I even had an Anna Pavlova doll. But I wasn't any good. I have no turn-out, no flexibility, I roll over on my arches severely, and once I got breasts, as small as they were, I completely lost my balance. But I was good on pointe. I was able to go up sooner than most of my classmates, it didn't hurt me much, my toes never rebelled, and I can even (to this day) go up on pointe briefly in regular shoes or no shoes, not just in pointe shoes. But that one talent wasn't nearly enough to overcome all my disadvantages and today it remains part of my past. I hope one day to take an adult ballet class for fitness reasons, but that's it.

Misty Copeland had the opposite experience. She never took a class until she was thirteen. And then she showed remarkable talent and proclivity for the sport. She has amazing natural turnout, flexibility, and her body exactly conformed to the ideals laid out by Balanchine himself (that is until she hit her twenties and developed breasts and hips but she's still pretty darn perfect. She just no longer looks like a prepubescent boy, like most ballet dancers.) A natural, she was way behind everyone else. She didn't know any of the steps, any of the dances, and she didn't have the years or practice that bring muscle memory to the fore. She also had a not-great background.

At first things were pretty good. She lived with her siblings and her mother and step-father in an okay part of L.A. But her mother divorced her step-father who was an alcoholic and took them to live in another man's house, this time a rich doctor. Sounds good except that he was physically abusive to Misty's mother (Misty was his favorite among his step-children, so while her siblings found him terrifying, she did not.) When they left his house, their mother took up with a young drug dealer and everyone moved into his one-bedroom apartment. And soon into a motel. And that's where she was living when she started taking dance classes at the Boys' and Girls' Club after school. Her dance teacher ran her own studio across town, and Misty's older sister would take her there on the bus and pick her up, but at more than two hours each way, that quickly became a burden. To the teacher, though, with such a prodigy, the answer was simple: Misty should move in with her (and her husband and young son.) And for a year, Misty did live with them. For the first time she learned about nutrition and that she shouldn't subsist on Doritos and soda. And it was great for a while. But then her mother started acting weird. And she hired a prominent civil-rights lawyer. Eventually there was a high-profile custody lawsuit and an appearance on Leeza.

It was nice when that was no longer an issue, when Misty could go away to ballet schools' summer programs, and when she was able to move to New York City and finally concentrate on her career and not have so many negative distractions. She still had issues to overcome and nothing was handed to her. But she no longer had to worry about where she was going to sleep at night and if there was any decent food to eat.

There are not many African-American ballet dancers, and almost no prima ballerinas. Misty was named a soloist with the American Ballet Theatre, and it's terrific that young African-American girls today have her as a role model. She didn't come from an ideal background and she made it. Granted, she had many physical advantages that others likely will not have, but its important for girls of color to see people like them in all aspects of life including the arts. I hope she will inspire others to dream, as she proves how hard work and dedication pay off.

Buy Life in Motion through IndieBound.
I have an affiliate relationship with IndieBound, the American Bookseller's Association's online link to independent bookstores. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site. Please click on the logo.

Shop Indie Bookstores

I bought this book at Tubby & Coo's, an independent bookstore in New Orleans, LA.

Book Beginnings: Life in Motion

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland

"It's morning, eight a.m., to be exact. My alarm goes off for no more than five seconds before I sit up to stop the nagging sound."

Misty Copeland is exhausted and aching and has just as hard a time getting up in the morning as I do even though I am not a ballerina.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

“Waiting On”: Above the Waterfall

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash

Synopsis from Goodreads: 
Les, a long-time sheriff nearing retirement, contends with the ravages of poverty and crystal meth in his small Appalachian town. Nestled in a beautiful hollow of the Appalachians, his is a tight-knit community rife with secrets and suspicious of outsiders.

Becky, a park ranger, arrives in this remote patch of North Carolina hoping to ease the anguish of a harrowing past. Searching for tranquility amid the verdant stillness, she finds solace in poetry and the splendor of the land.

A vicious crime will plunge both sheriff and ranger into deep and murky waters, forging an unexpected bond between them. Caught in a vortex of duplicity, lies, and betrayal, they must navigate the dangerous currents of a tragedy that turns neighbor against neighbor—and threatens to sweep them all over the edge.

Echoing the lapsarian beauty of William Faulkner and the spiritual isolation of Carson McCullers, Above the Waterfall demonstrates the prodigious talent of an author hailed as “a gorgeous, brutal writer” (Richard Price); “one of the best American novelists of his day” (Janet Maslin, New York Times). Lyrical and evocative, tragic and indelible, it is a breathtaking achievement from a literary virtuoso.

Publishing September 8, 2015 by Ecco.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

My month in review August 2015

The week in review meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. I did increase my goal for 2015 to 100 books. We cut off the cable last month so, while we do still have Netflix, that gives me even more reading time. Well, it did until I discovered The West Wing.

Books completed this month: 
Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival by Peter Stark 
Armada by Ernest Cline
Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina by Misty Copeland
Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer (audio)
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck
Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Life Is Short (No Pun Intended): Love, Laughter, and Learning to Enjoy Every Moment by Jennifer Arnold and Bill Klein
The Race for Paris by Meg Waite Clayton

Books I am currently reading/listening to: 
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (audio)

What I acquired this month:
I am very much trying to keep my book buying down, but it's so hard for me to go to an independent bookstore (Park Road Books) and not make a purchase. Park Road had the one Jill McCorkle book (my favorite author) I didn't already own, July 7th, in the edition I wanted, and it was autographed, woo hoo! Then I went to two other independent bookstores, so more books had to be purchased. At Great Expectations Books & More in Rutherfordton, NC, I got Liane Moriarty's The Husband's Secret and at Fountainhead Bookstore in Hendersonville, NC I bought Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore. I went back to Park Road Books for a joint event with them and the WNBA for Landfall by Ellen Urbani. And then Ellen gave me a gift for helping to host the event: Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed.

Meanwhile, the publishers of Maud's Line by Margaret Verble sent me a copy. And I keep getting notices from the library that the books I have on hold are coming in. Sigh. Nothing on the bookshelves is getting tackled for a while! Nice problem to have.

Review: Life Is Short (No Pun Intended): Love, Laughter, and Learning to Enjoy Every Moment by Jennifer Arnold and Bill Klein

I'm a long-time fan of The Little Couple. I wouldn't have thought I would be, but with all the crappy realty shows out there, it's nice to see such a regular couple featured (and so positive too), even if they might not seem regular, as they are both Little People. But they truly are. Jennifer is a doctor specializing in neonatology and in teaching medicine using simulation. Bill co-founded a sales leads business back in New York but sold it when Jen got this fabulous job in Texas, and now he owns a pet boutique which his mother-in-law manages. They moved across country, built their dream home (which was much more complicated than usual due to their height issues and wanting a house that works for them, while being compliant with the laws, and also that will work for them in the future which means things like an elevator), and most recently have adopted two children internationally (also LPs.) They go on vacations, see their families, and Jen wins awards and gives speeches. Jen also came down with a very rare cancer last year although it was aggressively treated (thanks to Bill who noticed that the chemo initially didn't seem to be affecting her and he figured out that while Jen is about half the weight of a normal adult, they shouldn't be giving her half the medication, because she has full-sized organs, and this changed everything.)

I ran out to get this book right away mostly due to Jen and Bill's amazingly positive attitudes. They do not see the world through rose-colored glasses--they certainly understand that bad things happen and challenges happen--but they power through with an attitude of positivity and calm. I am really drawn to that. It's unusual to see people who embody both optimism and realism simultaneously, particularly when they've had rough lives that would lead most people to being pretty pessimistic (they've both had dozens of surgeries starting as toddlers among other health issues and also just the general problems of being teased, bullied, and underestimated.) I wanted to see how they did it--how exactly they kept smiling in the face of obstacles.

There is no magic formula of course, except that after lifetimes of overcoming everything so far, there's no reason to doubt they'll overcome something else. I did wish for a little more depth in the book, but as it was relatively thin, and is a joint memoir (they alternate chapters), it's inevitable that it wasn't overly deep. The writing is pretty pedestrian, although their voices come through. Even if you didn't notice who was writing the chapter you're reading, if you're familiar with the show, their voices do come through loud and clear (especially Bill's.) It was nice to get so much background. The show is only mentioned in the last two chapters (one each) which makes sense as, if you're a fan or interested in their lives since then, you should just watch the show. No reason to recap what's already on TV. I was interested in how the show came about, and how they held out for an agreement that really strongly understood their positive outlook and committed to portraying that, and not looking for drama, which I appreciate. If you're a fan, you'll like this book.

I checked this book out of the library.