Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Five Books Recently Read

I've managed to read five diverse books in the past three weeks, one autobiography by Christian music star Amy Grant and four fiction titles, one for my book group in July.
They are:
Mosaic, Amy Grant
The Night Bookmobile, Audrey Niffenegger
The Red Magician, Lisa Goldstein
One Vacant Chair, Joe Coomer
The Remarkable Life and Times of Eliza Rose,Mary Hooper

I was actually surprised that a favorite musical artist of mine from the 80s, Amy Grant, had written a book, as I'd never heard of it. However, once I snagged this copy at The Old Renton Bookstore, I found it was a well-written book that I was able to read in one sitting. Grant gives readers tidbits about her life and career interspersed with lyrics to her songs old and new. Though I am not a fundamental or charismatic Christian, Grant's heartfelt lyrics and pretty melodies have always attracted me to her work, as has her kindness and gentle spiritual persona. I've always felt that I could relate to her through her songs, and that if I ever actually met the woman, it would be like chatting with an old friend. That feeling only intensified after reading Mosaic, because Grant writes in such a personable fashion with all her Sagittarian charm. I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys knowing the story behind a hit song, and those who find the lives of musicians and poets fascinating, as I do, being a fellow creative.

The Night Bookmobile is the second book of Niffenegger's that I've read, having consumed her bestseller "The Time Travelers Wife" several years ago. The Night Bookmobile is an adult graphic novel/comic book that responds to the question every bibliophile has thought about, mainly, "What would happen if there were a library that held everything you'd ever read?" The protagonist of the book happens upon an old trailer one night that is full of books, cereal boxes, periodicals and all manner of items, curated by an elderly gentleman who is her very own "librarian." Though she's fascinated by this collection, she discovers that she can't stay in her mobile library and that it will take years before she can happen upon it again. Inbetween visits, the protagonist is moved to start volunteering at her local library, and eventually gets her MLS degree, becoming the director of the library in time. There is a furtive melancholy about the protagonist, who seems to become more depressed as the novel progresses, until she finds a way to become the librarian of someone else's "Night Bookmobile"...I won't spoil the surprise ending for you by telling you what happens. Suffice it to say that I wouldn't recommend this book to a melodramatic teenager.

I would recommend "The Red Magician" to high-school-age teens, however, because it lends a completely different facet to the story of the Holocaust than I've ever read before. Goldstein follows the life of a young girl in a small European village prior to WW2. The girl's close-knit family are surprised one day by the appearance of a red-haired 'magician' who challenges the authority of their village Rabbi, who has magic powers himself. Of course the teenage girl develops a crush or infatuation with Vorous (pronounced Vor-roosh) the red magician, and is horrified when she discovers that the Rabbi has decided that Vorous is cursing his daughter and causing demons to haunt the village. So Vorous leaves the village, only to return a few years later, and try to warn the village that bad things/bad people are coming to kill them. He is again run off by the rabbi, who seems to be a nasty character, and not long after the Nazi's come to the village, round everyone up and put them on trains bound for concentration camps. Though he doesn't find her until the camp is liberated by the Allies, Vorous manages to save the protagonist just in time for her to help Vorous keep the rabbi from killing him in a magical duel. This is a book that won't soon be forgotten, as its vivid characters and fascinating premise should keep readers turning pages into the wee hours.

One Vacant Chair is a book I'm reading for my KCLS book group, and though it started out slow, almost plodding, it eventually picked up steam and was a charming work of fiction. It's the story of a Texas family that have moved away from their hometown and now are returning for the funeral of their mother/grandmother. The main character has just discovered that her husband cheated on her, and is trying to get some perspective and space by staying with her Aunt, who took care of her mean mother for years until her demise. The grandmother insists, in her will, that her ashes get scattered all over Scotland, so the protagonist and the Aunt take off for Scotland, where they learn a great deal about each other and the power of forgiveness. I felt that this novel, though dotted with interesting and eccentric characters, could have used a deft editor to cut out the paragraphs that seemed little more than the author showing off his vocabulary and use of metaphor. Though I found the end sad, this was a book that left me feeling uplifted in many ways.

Not nearly as uplifted as I was by the Remarkable Life of Eliza Rose, however, which read like a Masterpiece Theater series. This tale is a juicy historical novel about a girl named Eliza who is thrown out of her home by her nasty stepmother, only to find that when she finally gets to London to try and track down her father, that it was on his orders that she was thrown out. Eliza is thrown in jail for stealing food, and is rescued by Ma Gwyn, whose daughter Nell Gwyn becomes the mistress of King Charles II, and takes Eliza with her to court to save her from life in a brothel. Everyday life in 17th century England is well delineated here, with an emphasis on the difficulties of young women in various strata of society. Though Eliza is a bit prudish, I found her likeable and her situation fascinating, and was enthralled through all of the twists and turns of the plot. An interesting novel for fans of historical romance and 17th century Britain in particular.

This is from Shelf Awareness, and I must say that I was thrilled to see Lois McMaster Bujold, Ursula Le Guin and Joanna Russ get some much-deserved kudos for their wonderful SF novels for a change.

Flavorwire featured "10 diverse sci-fi authors you should know
noting that "it's good to remember that the field has widened in the
past thirty years or so to be more inclusive. Now there are women,
people of color, and writers of all different kinds of sexualities
getting involved in the genre."

I would love to have a lamp like this, I just can't imagine eviscerating a book to make it:
How to make a bedside lamp in a hollow book
http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz11294364. Boing
Boing noted that the "book's cover is the switch, and the book's
designer says he wanted to prove that literature is illuminating."

Finally, though I am not a fan of Tom Perrotta, having found "Little Children" to be a horrid book, I agree with his taste in books:

My Half-Century Reading List by Tom Perrotta
I’m turning fifty this summer, and to mark the occasion, I’ve been re-reading some books that were published in the year of my birth. By chance, or some mysterious confluence of cultural factors, 1961 turned out to be a golden moment for American fiction. A glance at the nominees for the National Book Award of 1962 tells the story: Among the finalists are three landmark works still widely read today—Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road, and the winner, Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer—as well as books by I.B. Singer, J.D. Salinger, and Bernard Malamud. That’s a pretty impressive roster, a Camelot-era literary dream team.


What a GREAT idea! This could be like the Dublin-based Irish Writers Museum that my friend Muff and I saw back in 2000.

Retired businessman Malcolm O'Hagan, "an Irish engineer with a love for
great literature," is working on a plan to open the American Writers
Museum http://www.shelf-awareness.com/ct/uz3642037Biz11312631 in Chicago. The Tribune
reported that O'Hagan is optimistic about raising funds for his
ambitious project.

"We don't underestimate the difficulty of the undertaking, but it will
get done," he said. His initial idea was to house the museum in New
England, but "the more we thought about it, we realized it needs to be
in a destination city for both tourists and conventioneers, and it needs
to be in a large metropolitan city with a rich literary tradition and
culture. We've settled on Chicago because we think that's where it

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