Friday, April 27, 2007

History was never my forte - all those dates and place names to remember. When you're a student it's difficult to find it all relevant. But...when you get your history lessons through exquisite literature, it's a whole new ball of wax!
I'm just finishing Half of a Yellow Sun by Nigerian-born writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I would say that I can't put this book down but I'm sorry to say that it's the book I have by my bed, which dooms it to be read in small increments. That's because, by the time I land in bed with my book, my attention span maxes out at about 10 - 15 minutes!
I really wish I could take a day off to finish reading this beautifully written tale of twin sisters Olanna and Kainene, raised in a well- to- do Igbo family, prepared for lives of leisure which they both eschew. Olanna has her consciousness raised by Odenigbo, the educator and political activist with whom she lives and Kainene, trained to take over the family business disappoints her father by taking up with a white British ex-pat studying Igbo art in Nigeria.
The backdrop for this novel is the devastating 1960's Biafran Civil War, a move for secession that resulted in over 2 million deaths. Told through the eyes of Ugwu, a young house boy for Olanna and Odenigbo, the story of a once idyllic life transformed by war, starvation, and greed will tear you apart. I can't help but make comparisons to the current Iraqi nightmare and wonder what kind of literature will rise from the ashes there.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Theatre Conspiracy has been producing "cutting edge" plays at the Foulds Theatre for thirteen years now and I've been supporting their efforts since I first saw a powerful rendering of Equus about ten years ago. Sadly, the Conspiracy's contract will not be renewed, yet ironically, last night I attended one of their finest works to date.
The Dunes, written by Craig Pospisil and winner of this year's new play contest, is a very satisfying evening of theatre. Lightly based on Chekov's The Cherry Orchard (I'll now have to go reread that!), the action centers around a rambling old summer home in the Hamptons with enough property and views of the sea to protect it from the McMansions that are popping up all over the place. It is here that an aging diva comes with her family to lick her wounds upon realizing that she's been left bankrupt by a scheming husband. Unable to land a meaty role to beef up her bank accounts, Laura deals with her problems by putting her head in the sand and allowing the burden of worry to fall on her responsible step-daughter Vanessa who's recently become engaged to an investment broker.
As the summer heats up, the light, familial bonhomie soon deteriorates and long-held resentments boil to the surface. The actors play off each other so well, keeping the script's realistic dialogue moving along at a perfect pace. The set is one of the more sophisticated that I've seen at Theatre Conspiracy. I highly recommend this play to local readers.

Meanwhile, I've got an addendum to my assessment of Black Swan Green. It's not all lightness and laughs but don't let that turn you off. There's a lot going on in this book, not least of which is the British conflict in the Falklands and its effects on the families of Black Swan Green. The author also does a marvelously poignant job of examining the slow deterioration of a marriage through the eyes of Jason Taylor and his sister. Jason, too, is the subject of much cold blooded adolescent teasing because he has a stammer for which he sees a speech therapist. His revenge is that, under an inventive pseudonym, he writes delightful poetry which is published in the vicarage newsletter. Like I said, there's a lot going on here!

More about next year's book discussion line up next week.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Audio books have changed my life! What did I ever do before them? How did I keep up on all my necessary reading? Since I got my new car - the first one I've ever had with a CD player in it - I have totally overcome my road rage and actually volunteer to drive everywhere so that I can submerge myself in a great book. Having someone read to you is one of life's ultimate pleasures and many times the reader can make or break a book. Hint, most authors are NOT great readers. Go figure.

I'm about 3 disks into Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. This isn't the type of book I normally read but it's gotten such wonderful reviews and was an ALA Notable pick this year so I took a shot and am glad I did. The reader is Kirby Heyborne and his British accent is just so perfect that the personality of 13 year old Jason Taylor, whose coming of age tale is the subject of the novel, just jumps through the speakers! Drivers on the dreaded route 41 must be wondering what the heck is going on in my car because I'm just roaring with laughter most of the time. This book reminds me somewhat of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which was another great listen.

My library system now offers something else that's really neat - downloadable audio books. My mp3 player is my new favorite toy, a Christmas gift from my dear friend Don. Without it I would never be able to exercise as much as I do - walking for walking's sake just doesn't cut it for me. But, if I can listen to books in perfect stereo, I can keep up a good steady heart rate boosting walk for 45 minutes to an hour just about every day that I can find the time. I can't tell you how many fabulous books have gotten me around the block over the past several years. Of course, one of the reasons I can't tell you is because I don't remember, but that's another story!

Last night I started listening to Nelson DeMille's Wildfire. It had me at "hello." Read by one of the best, Scott Brick, who was recently a presenter at our library's 8th annual reading festival, this book represents my guilty little secret. I LOVE suspense novels! I'm almost sorry I'm going out to dinner tonight - yeah, right, - as I'll miss an hour of DeMille. If you read Night Fall you'll remember the husband/wife, FBI agent duo who narrowly missed being annihilated at Windows on the World on Sept. 11th. John Corey and Kate Mayfield are back, working an anti-terrorism task force that must stop a right wing conspiracy (I just had to use that term) that's intent on pulling the United States into a nuclear conflagration. Sound too close for comfort? Read it and weep.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Book discussion groups have taken on a life of their own, yet sadly, I get the impression that many people fail to connect libraries with book discussions. Surely we were holding book discussions long before Oprah came on the scene - which isn't to say that she hasn't contributed greatly to getting Americans on the path to reading for pleasure and socializing.
The librarians I work with have been actively planning our book discussion line up for next "season." Here in Southwest Florida we find that we lose more than half of our clientele during the summer months so, because we live and die by our statistics, we only host book discussions from September through April. This gives us the chance to create a splashy brochure each spring which is then mailed to our northern friends in June. They have all summer to read up on the fall lineup.
The trouble with this, as you can imagine, is choosing the books to discuss. As soon as I commit to "my" books I know darn well I'm going to see another great novel or timely non-fiction book that calls to me. A publicity deadline is calling though, so here's my selection for our 2007-2008 disucssion season:

The Time of Our Singing by Richard Powers. This title was recommended twice by one of my faithful attendees. It's a mammoth, historical, multi-generational saga that spans most of the 20th century and examines the polarizing effect of the civil rights movement and its aftermath on the three children of an idealistic inter-racial couple.

The Attack by Yasmina Khadra pointedly asks the question, "how well do we really know the people we love?" Khadra, whose book The Swallows of Kabul, we discussed last year, searches the hearts of Dr. Amin Jaafari and his wife, who believe that they have assimilated as Arabs in an Israeli neightborhood, until an unthinkable act of violence ruptures the very fabric of their tenuous relationship.

Returning to Earth by Jim Harrison is a spare novel that addresses the notion of death as a natural progression, a return to the earth. Donald, part Chippewa, settled in Michigan's Upper Peninsula where he quietly raised his family and nurtured his love of the natural world. Now dying of Lou Gehrig's disease, he begins dictating to his wife Cynthia the never-before- told tales of three generations.

I've read that people quickly lose interest in blogs if the writer goes on and on so I think I'll leave you with this for now and continue with the rest of the titles another day. Anyway, it's almost time for me to log on to Florida's Askalibrarian website and take my share of reference questions this morning. This project is a whole other story - good for another day - one of the many projects I've taken on this year to stave off becoming obsolete in a techie world!

Monday, April 9, 2007

What fun! My sister just posted a comment to my blog and she mentions that she is just starting Jane Hamilton's When Madeline was Young.
I am just finishing this absolutely terrific novel! It has so much more depth than the jacket description reveals. Writing in a flashback format, Hamilton parallels the lives of the wonderfully complex Maciver family members with the major historical events of the last five decades. Their dinner table is a hot bed of conversation where no subject is sacred, be it race, religion or war.
I told a dear friend yesterday that Julia Maciver was my mother. Now this is a family full of human foibles yet I felt that I knew and cared for each one of them with all their strengths and weaknesses.
Ah, so much to read, so little time!

I just finished a disappointing novel by Suzanne Berne called The Ghost at the Table. I was drawn to it because of the family situation which is similar to my own. Two sisters, the younger one, like mine, named Cynthia, who've grown up in the same household and harbor very disparate perceptions of their upbringing, in particular as it relates to their parents' relationship.
They live on opposite sides of the coast and the action revolves around a Thanksgiving reunion, hosted by Frances, the elder sister, who supposedly wants to reproduce a Norman Rockwell kind of idyll that is more her fantasy than reality.
This book was a quick read and actually well written but between the manipulative antics of Frances and the false memories of Cynthia, I just didn't like or relate to any of the characters well enough to care what happened to them in their childhood, let alone what's happening to them now!

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

This is not good! I've been awake since 5:30 this morning thinking about the book I want to write about on my blog. I can see that this could become addictive.

Think Peter Mayle and Frances Mayes and you'll understand why I just fell in love with this little book that came across the front desk of the library a few weeks ago. It's called "The Caliph's House; A Year in Casablanca." According to the book jacket Tahir Shah, an Anglo-Afghan, has family roots in the Hindu Kush. Those origins called him and his family out of foggy London town to a fabulous run down palace on the outskirts of Casablanca overlooking the sea.

Though readers might marvel at Shah's unlimited amounts of patience and money, his tale of his family's efforts to hire workmen to render the Caliph's house habitable while trying to overcome the superstitions of the quirky caretakers in residence and the ever present influence of the jinns is simply delightful.

You can find out more about this author at his website