Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I've missed writing!

What ever happened to those "hazy, lazy, crazy days of summer?" July and August are supposed to be the slowest time at the library, a time when we can catch up on all the things we don't get to do from October to June, but this year, not so much! I'm feeling overwhelmed with deadlines and, even though I always meet them, they put my stomach in a knot! Next week I have to teach a workshop on Readers' Advisory service and, though I've done it several times before, I always obsess about keeping it fresh, not to mention keeping the technology working to my advantage. The power point isn't for the students, it's a memory jog for this middle aged brain!

I've just written an article for the Bonita Banner on my favorite topic, Banned Books Week, and penned another review for Library Journal (more on the new book Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh at another time). At over 500 pages, with a 2 week deadline, I had to drop the book I really wanted to finish and write about, an old classic that I've only recently heard of, called Strange Fruit by Lillian Smith. Banned when it was published in the early '40's, this book about an interracial love affair in 1920's Georgia, builds slowly with glorious writing but the reader senses from the jump that tragedy will ensue. The term "strange fruit" is taken from a Billie Holiday song in which she refers to the bodies of lynched African Americans hanging from the trees in the south. In my naivetee, I've always believed that racial prejudice was long behind us here in the good ole USA. It's taken Barack Obama's bid for the presidency to show me how foolish I've been.

Meanwhile my friend Andrea mentioned the other day that she hasn't had a chance to read Ann Patchett's latest novel, Run. That's when I realized how far behind the eight ball I was. I must have finished that three weeks ago and hadn't posted a word. Many of us love Ann P. and we've been trying to get her, along with her delightful mother Jeanne Ray, (Julie and Romeo) to attend the reading festival to no avail. I absolutely adored Patchet's The Patron Saint of Liars, and had a very successful book discussion of Bel Canto, so I was awfully disappointed in the latest entry in her oeuvre. (I am alone in this criticism so don't take my word for it) It's a quick read but I found the plot to be so far fetched that it detracted from the otherwise good writing. In a nutshell, a wealthy, politically connected Irish Catholic family in Boston adopts twin boys, who happen to be African American, and almost immediately their adopted mom dies leaving the boys and their 10 year old half-brother to be raised single handedly by Doyle, the loving but demanding patriarch and former mayor.

When we meet the family they are fully dysfunctional and at odds with eachother while still putting on a united front to please Doyle in some kind of misguided thanks for the classy educations and upbringing. Teddy wants to be a priest, Kip a scientist, Doyle pushes politics. One evening as they are leaving the umpteenth lecture (Jesse Jackson!) that Doyle has dragged them to, Kip in an angry exchange with his dad, walks briskly away from the curb unaware that an SUV is careening toward him in the snow. A woman appearing from nowhere jumps in front of the vehicle, pushing Kip to safety but sustaining severe injuries herself. The Doyles jump into action, getting the unknown woman to the nearest hospital and arranging to take her 12 year old daughter Kenya home with them until things can be straightened out. Then things take a strange turn.

It seems that Kenya knows everything about the Doyles, has been following them her whole life with an avid, seemingly unhealthy interest encouraged by her mother. In this novel Patchett is obviously exploring relationships, examining what really constitutes a family and dabbling in the nature/nurture debate, themes I normally jump all over. So Andrea, go ahead, please and read this book. Maybe you'll help me understand why it didn't work for me. At any rate, it would make for a great discussion.

More soon on the exquisite Jhumpa Lahiri and her collection of related short stories, Unaccustomed Earth, a truly beautiful book that I highly recommend listening to just for the lovely lilt of the reader who nails the Bengali dialect.

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