What are you reading the week of January 25, 2020?
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When Hofstadter at last turns to education, his argument seems to grow more diffuse. He gives an interesting summary of the growth and development of public education in America but seems to rail at the direction it has taken since the beginning of the 20th century. Oddly, he seems to project an elitist snobbery about what education should entail. Or perhaps I'm the elitist for thinking that not everyone is going to benefit from studying calculus, or philosophy, or ancient Greek and Latin? If not, then what would they benefit from learning? While I was in advanced algebra class (with three other guys and about 17 girls), most of the other boys I knew where in shop. Who was being bettered served? Did taking shop unfairly constrain their choices in life? On the other hand, I sometimes wish that I was more handy with tools. :-)
Since Hofstadter seems to blame the problems of 20th century American public education on a misreading of John Dewey's Democracy and Education, I've started reading that last night. So far, so good. But I honestly don't expect to finish this book. At 360 pages, this is probably more Dewey than I'll be able to take.
This morning I started American Dirt, which I understand is controversial. I bought it not for the controversy, but because it looked interesting and because the cover is really beautiful. So far I'm enjoying, but I'm only two chapters in.
>2 ahef1963: I am very sorry to know you're struggling with reading as well. I need to get my sleep apnea issue dealt with soon, as I can't remember from sentence to sentence what it is I'm reading.
I hate this.
Next up is probably a re-read of Dune.
Okay, I lied. I did finish 'Buzz', but it was pretty dull, all things considered, and it led me to pull Mary Roach's Bonk off the shelf for a re-read. Roach is equally informative, taking a much broader scope than Lieberman, who is focusing entirely on sex toys. In addition, Roach's careful research doesn't overwhelm her humor.
The Secret Footprints – Julia Alvarez
Illustrations by Fabian Negrin
This children’s picture book tells the Dominican Republic legend of the ciguapas – a race of extraordinarily beautiful people who live in caves beneath the sea and come onto land only at night. As a further way of ensuring they won’t be found their feet are on backwards, so anyone following their footprints will be led away from them rather than toward them.
I found this charming and entertaining. I liked the kindness displayed by both Guapa and the human boy and his family. Could not help but recall The Little Mermaid. The illustrations by Fabian Negrin are gloriously rich in color and bring me right to the tropics.
The Milagro Beanfield War – John Nichols – 5*****
In a New Mexico valley the power is held by one man and his company. Over the years Ladd Devine’s family has manipulated the indigenous peasant farmers, securing the majority of water rights for his proposed golf course / spa retreat while leaving the original residents with arid land, unsuitable for farming, or even grazing. So he’s been able to buy out the poor farmers securing more and more land and leaving less water for those that remain. Until one day Joe Mondragon decides to cut a break in the wall and divert water onto his late father’s field, so he can plant some beans.
I've had this book on my TBR radar for a bajillion years and I don't know why I waited so long to read it. I really liked it a lot! The quirky characters, the message, the humor, the pathos, and the landscape all made this an especially moving book for me. I could not help but think of my grandparents - we always referred to their property as a "dirt farm" - dirt being their most reliable crop. They were on their ranch / farm well into their 80s ... even after my grandfather had two strokes. He just got up and kept caring for the animals, tending the orchards, repairing the truck, doing whatever it took to keep on living.
So, thank you, PBT Trim the TBR for finally giving me the "push" I needed to get to this gem of a novel. I can hardly wait to read it again!
If I have any complaint about the book, it’s about this edition’s Afterward, where the author begins with: Actually, I’ve sort of had it with THE MILAGRO BEANFIELD WAR. and goes on to explain how distressed he is that this is the only book people seem to remember him for rather all his other works, some of which he believes are superior. But my disappointment with his little tantrum doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of the book itself.
and yeah, that little author tantrum was a little much. He wrote a book that is considered by many a classic. I can understand some frustration, but to put it in the intro is really uncalled for. So many others would give a lot for half of the attention he has received. But yeah, it was amazing
Now you have me curious; I think I did read another by him, and sadly don't remember it...
He wrote Sterile Cuckoo and Wizard of Loneliness both of which I read. But this little tantrum is just the start. Looked him up on his page and he says this
I live in northern New Mexico. I've been married and divorced three times, helped raise two kids, and survived open-heart surgery in 1994. 1 am not to be confused with the other John Nichols, a younger version who writes for The Nation and other venues, and publishes books like It's the Media, Stupid and Dick: The Man Who is President. He's a great writer, and, like myself, politically progressive, but he did not write An Elegy for September, Conjugal Bliss, The Magic Journey, American Blood, The Nirvana Blues, A Ghost in the Music, or The Voice of the Butterfly, I did.
and he continues:
As of July 2018 I’m 78 years old, My heart is locked in A-fib, I’m in terminal congestive heart failure, I take Lanoxin, carvedilol, coumadin and triamterene every day, and my doctor says my aortic valve is really sucking wind. However, i still have a "bigger button" than you know who.
I really really hope this is satire, that he has a very dry droll sense of humor. Otherwise, what a jackass
The Woman In the Window – A J Finn
Audiobook narrated by Ann Marie Lee.
This psychological thriller (with a capital ‘P’ !) takes its inspiration from the classic films of Alfred Hitchcock, chiefly Rear Window and Vertigo.
Anna Fox is a trained psychologist who now suffers from agoraphobia, trapped by her fear in her 19th-century Harlem brownstone, living vicariously by spying on the neighbors through the telephoto lens of her camera. She’s alone since her husband and daughter left, though she does still talk to them regularly. But mostly she drinks … a lot. And then one day she sees a crime committed in the house across the little park. The family is new to the neighborhood and she’s only met their teen-aged son when he brought over a candle as a new-neighbor gift, so she’s stunned to witness a woman being stabbed. But her inebriated state and her history of psychological problems cause the police to dismiss her complaints. But she just cannot let this go.
Obviously, Anna’s an unreliable narrator. And there are enough twists and turns in the plot to make the reader as unsure as the police about what Anna has actually witnessed. It’s a roller coaster of a ride and I was engaged and interested from beginning to end (even though I guessed the culprit quite a bit before the reveal).
While his Goodreads profile is scant, there is all sorts of information available about A J Finn (a pseudonym) on the internet, including about his own psychological problems. He’s been called both a liar and con man. Still, despite borrowing heavily from Hitchcock and other masters of suspense, he’s crafted a pretty entertaining, and page-turning yarn.
Anne Marie Lee does a marvelous job performing the audiobook. The final scenes are nothing short of chilling!
General observations ~
At some point after he left the administration, Reince Priebus observed that what was happening in the West Wing was much worse than what the public was witnessing. This book corroborates that observation. Rucker and Leonnig use their research findings to show that Trump is keeping his promise to be a human hand grenade in Washington. Because he has his own brand of reality, keeping questionable ideas from germinating in his mind is a lost cause. The authors use first-person accounts which allow the reader to decide if what occurred is admirable and lawful behavior for an American president and the leader of the free world. Do a majority of Americans want this type of leadership style to become the norm in our 21st Century republic?
For me, this book and American Carnage by Tim Alberta are the gold standard when it comes to exposing the underbelly of Trump's presidential era and the GOP's long-standing suicide mission.
Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic
This book tells the tale of the WWII ship Indianapolis. During the war this ship had a secret mission to deliver one of the atomic bombs that was used on Japan to help end the war. After that mission, a Japanese submarine attacked the boat causing it to sink, losing the lives of many of the crew. Despite the heroic actions of Commander McVay and the lack of help from the Navy, he was court martialed for not following procedures. Many of his crew was upset with the charges and it took years to have someone look into and dispute the charges. This was so interesting and there was also a wonderful special on PBS that led me to read the book. I recommend both. Check out more information at https://www.pbs.org/show/uss-indianapolis/
Hannah’s Dream – Diane Hammond
Sam Brown has been caring for Hannah, an Asian elephant, for over forty years, since shortly after she came to the Max Biedelman Zoo in the small agricultural town of Bladenham, Washington. Max Biedelman was really Maxine, the daughter and heiress of a wealthy lumber tycoon. She loved animals and nature and had quite the private collection of exotic animals. She willed her property, including the zoo and all its animals, to the city. But now a new zoo director has arrived, and Harriet Saul is determined to turn this place around. Unfortunately, her goals don’t have anything to do with proper care of the animals and Hannah will be the one to suffer most. Unless Sam and his colleagues and friends can find a way to save her.
This was a heartwarming story and I really enjoyed it. But then, if a book has an elephant in it, I’m bound to be a fan. I really liked Sam, his wife Corina, and Neva Wilson, the young zookeeper who comes to help.
The story moves back and forth in time, sometimes going to the early days when Max Biedelman was still alive, and Sam first came to work as Hannah’s keeper. The writing isn’t stellar, and the characters are out of central casting. But the basic story line was still enjoyable and kept me turning pages. There’s a subplot dealing with Max’s relationship with the charming, if frail, Miss Effie, that does little to advance the main plot, but which was handled sensitively.
Continuing with Pilgrimage 4, and planning on starting Trace: Who Killed Maria James and Crossfire.
There’s Something About Christmas – Debbie Macomber
Emma Collins is a journalist for a small-town newspaper. Oliver Hamilton is a charming pilot who’s agreed to fly her to various Washington cities so she can interview the three finalists in a national fruitcake contest. This is her big chance to prove she can do more than write obituaries and sell advertising space. But she’s afraid to fly. And she’s put off by Oliver’s attempts to charm her. Still, she can’t deny the spark between them.
It’s a Debbie Macomber Christmas story, cue the music and the snowflakes, grab some hot chocolate and enjoy the holiday romance. It’s a fun, fast read, if totally predictable.
From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily and Finding Home – Tembi Locke
While in Florence Italy as an exchange student Tembi met the man of her dreams. Saro was Sicilian, a chef, and more than a decade older than Tembi. She was an African-American college student, with attorney parents from Houston Texas. It was love at first sight, and the deal was sealed with the gift of a bicycle (probably stolen). This was an impossible relationship, but they made it work.
And then he got cancer.
This is a wonderful memoir full of love and tenderness, grief and frustration, joy and a sense of belonging.
Locke narrates the audiobook herself. I cannot imagine anyone doing a better job. Brava!
The Story Hour – Thrity Umrigar
Lakshmi Patil is an immigrant with an angry, unloving husband and no family or friends. In her abject loneliness she decides to commit suicide. Maggie Bose is a trained psychologist who is asked to see Lakshmi in the hospital. Something about the woman touches Maggie’s heart and she agrees to provide therapy without cost. The lines become blurred as their relationship less professional and more friendly. Both women are hiding significant secrets – from themselves, from each other, from their spouses, friends and family.
Umrigar alternates viewpoints between these two women. Lakshmi’s chapters are written in a broken English that was at first off-putting, but which I came to appreciate for how clearly that voice represented her. The reader gets a true sense of her loneliness, confusion, difficulties in understanding this language and culture so different from her native land, and the progress she makes. In contrast, Maggie’s chapters show her education, social position, and training as a psychologist. And yet, for all her ability to see the possible stories and motivations behind the actions and words of her patient/friend (or other people she comes into contact with), she seems blind to her own motivations.
I was completely engaged from page one through all the ups and downs of the story. I was anxious about how things would work out, sympathized with them when feelings were hurt, felt anger at some situations, and eagerly hoped for a resolution.
I’m glad that Umrigar left the ending somewhat ambiguous, but I have hope that these characters will find their way to understanding and forgiveness.
Set in the 50’s, Therese Belivet is fresh out of school and trying to establish her career in set design. She has been working part time jobs and dating a young man who is ready to get married. But Therese is not ready to settle down. While working at a store’s toy department during Christmas she meets Carol Aird, wife and mother, who is estranged from her husband. They start to develop a friendship that becomes stronger and soon threatens Carol’s relationship with her daughter. Highsmith does a great job building up the tension and you will be wondering where this will end.
Fun Home – Alison Bechdel
Bestselling memoir of a young woman growing up in a dysfunctional family. Her father was a closeted gay man, living and working in a small town, helping to run his family funeral home and also teaching. His wife was also a teacher and a frustrated actress. Alison grew up confused and unsure, wanting to be a boy rather than a girl, and not fully recognizing that she was lesbian until she was in college. Despite his many flaws and failures, her father did give her a love of literature and the prompt to begin a journal, which she obsessively kept from the age of ten.
In general, I’m not a fan of graphic novels. But here the colors are more muted, and the words are easier to read. The work is full of Bechdel’s marvelously detailed drawings. Her confusion, anger, disappointment and sadness come through on almost every page. I kept waiting for some joy in her life. I sincerely hope that writing this memoir has brought her the closure she needed and allowed her heart to open to more positive emotions.
So, while the format is not to my taste, I did find it well-done and I’ll certainly remember it.
It’s been adapted into a hit Broadway musical.