Saturday, April 25, 2009

Julia Glass - As Promised

Three Junes was one of my favorites when it came out several years ago. I was so happy to find a new author of what we refer to - I hope not in a derogatory way - as "women's fiction;" books that focus on the very complicated field of relationships, be they familial or romantic, bi-sexual, gay or straight. I had a chance to meet Ms. Glass a year or two later at either BEA or ALA and received an autographed copy of The Whole World Over which is still sitting in my bookcase along with the many books I own. You know, the ones that won't accrue an overdue fine so I'm saving them for a rainy day?

That's why, when I See You Everywhere came out, I decided I'd better get it from the library so I'd be forced not to put it off for that rainy day. So glad I did. I've been unable to find a website for Ms. Glass and perhaps that's a good thing. I'm always trying to find out how much of a person's novel is really autobiographical and, in this case, I'd rather not know which sister she might be even if I do have a hunch. I'm drawn and repelled by novels about sisters, their extremely complicated relationships can too often be simplified. Ms. Glass does not simplify. She jumps right in and renders a truly realistic look at the push/pull that makes the sister connection so dodgy. Those of you who are only children cannot imagine.

I think of my sister and I whenever I watch my all-time favorite, never get tired of it, movie White Christmas, where Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen sing "Sisters," swearing that no one will come between them unless one of them comes between her and her man. It's the old "blood is thicker than water" thing except that there are exceptions. The same holds true in I See You Everywhere. Clem and Louise are polar opposites - genes are strange things, aren't they? Raised only a few years apart by the same parents but one an adventurer prone to living on the edge, sexually adventurous and married to a career that takes her to the wilds of every country to study animal behavior, the other a reflective loner, a writer and potter who prefers her own company to just any port in a storm. Each sister has a distinctive voice, chapter by chapter, telling their version of history, though I have to admit to getting confused at points during the story as Glass bounces from the past to the present and Clem to Louise. It wasn't until one of them was diagnosed with breast cancer that I really sat up and took notice.

I wasn't expecting it at all - guess I hadn't read enough reviews. What was most disconcerting was the way in which Ms. Glass described every little detail to a tee, especially the radiation treatments, the plastic nest made to conform exactly to one's body, the discussion one has with that big, noisy machine as it bores into your body, the trust one has in the computer operators who input the figures that render the dosage exactly right, not too much, not too little and not off in its direction by a millimeter. There seemed no doubt that Julia Glass had been there, done that and the fate of the sister in treatment suddenly became personal for me.

This book is an extremely honest look into the hearts of two women who, if not related, probably wouldn't even have been friends though readers don't doubt their love for eachother. It's beautifully written, Ms. Glass is a "literary" writer. Her books grab us on page one and don't let go. They're emotional and well worthy of discussion if you have the courage to open the vein and go there.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Time - where does it go?

Days. weeks, months, they all seem to be racing away from me. What began as a twice weekly blog about books and life seems to have dwindled to a twice monthly rant that's too long for anyone to read. Excuses, excuses - work really seems to get in the way of writing. Then there was the fantastic visit with my brother and sister in law last week, the catching up, the revelations of our youthful indiscretions, the "father always loved you best" accusations offered only half in jest. My poor baby brother will likely have to go into therapy now that he's discovered that dad took me hunting once when I was only about 8 or 9 years old but never took Al. Why? Who knows. Dad isn't here to answer the question but it was probably just as simple as mom needed a break from my constant chatter!

So, what am I reading? I just finished a book for Library Journal - wrote the review yesterday. It's a rerelease of The Black Album by Hanif Kureishi, originally published in 1995. A book group's dream, it deals with immigration issues, alienation, loneliness, fundamentalism, freedom of speech, the power of words, etc. etc. etc. Can't say more but you can watch for the review early this summer probably. I had never read anything by Kureishi though I was familiar with his screenplays, My Beautiful Laundrette and more recently, Venus.

I've been remiss in not getting back here to give a huge shout out to Tess Gerritsen ( )for her fantastic plug on her blog for our reading festival. I downloaded The Keepsake onto my new mp3 player because it's the book she was touting when she came to Ft. Myers to speak. Even though the Jane Rizzoli books are a long series I'm having no trouble picking up the threads. This title appealed to me because it's about archaeology and mummifcation which has always fascinated me - though not, I assure you, as a means of murder! Ever since my high school class took it's senior trip to NYC to the Metropolitan, I've loved all things Egyptian.

This thriller takes place in a small museum in Boston where the arrival of an ancient mummy brings out the paparazzi. When the mummy is CAT scanned, the modern dentistry and telltale bullet hole reveal that this body is only a few years old and the publicity puts pressure on staff member Josephine Pulcillo, who's been living under the radar screen and an assumed name for several years. As Rizzoli and her partner delve deeper into the goings on at the Crispin Museum, no one is who he seems, dead bodies begin showing up all over the country and the fun begins. This novel is lightweight fun and a welcome interlude from my usual fare like the very heavy Indignation by Philip Roth that I've had in my cd player.

I've got to get ready for work now - Ann and I to lunch today as we discuss my evaluation. 16 years with the LCLS. I can't believe it. I remember my interview so long ago and the way I obsessed over it - how badly I wanted this job - the joy of going back to school - the pride of accomplishment. How many of us can still feel that way so many years later? Even though there's a freeze on raises and hiring I still aspire to see that final determination "exceeds expectations." Will I get more money? Not. Will Ann keep me on the payroll? I expect so.

Up next? Julia Glass.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

So Proud to be an American!

Yes, at the risk of being blasted like Michelle Obama was, I can firmly say that I am once again sooooo proud of this country and it's all because of the great news coming out of Europe all weekend. While I was sitting here firing up my new mp3 player (yes, I dumped the old one accidentally into a bucket of soap and water - it wasn't happy) I've been playing the video clips from the Obamas' trips to London and France, listening to their speeches, never once wincing in humiliation at the arrogant hubris of days gone by.

Rather, I heard my president vow to remove nuclear weapons from the face of the earth, pledge greater cooperation and appreciation of the cultural history of our European friends and ask if the United States could join them in the fight against global warming. Wow! I heard him thoughtfully answer a student's question about the burden of being a world leader yet encourage her and her cohorts to service no matter on what scale. I saw Michelle Obama clutched by school girls of every ethnic background, making eye contact and touching each of them. (much to the Secret Service's dismay!) When she told them that each individual young lady was a "precious jewel" in her eyes, she was not the only one tearing up.
This morning's NY Times confirmed my sense of walking on air, carrying nothing but good news about the bridges that have been mended this week with Europe. It also ran two editorials, one each from the London Times and a French journal, reiterating my take that the Obamas are not just physically head and shoulders above our last administration, but morally and intellectually as well.

All that brings me to the book I just finished. Gwen Ifill's The Breakthrough; Politics and Race in the Age of Obama, which made a little stir last fall right before she moderated the pathetic vice-presidential debate. I have to admit that, unless Ms. Ifill completely rewrote this book after the election, there was no doubt in her mind as to who was going to be living in the White House come January when the book hit the streets. However, I don't believe that it ever would have caused her a conflict of interest in the debates and, in fact, I'm afraid that after all the hoo ha, it probably weakened her as a moderator. She was so afraid of being called for bias that she let Sarah Palin run the show, never going in for the kill as she certainly could have. In retrospect, it turned out fine.

Ms. Ifill is well known as a thirty year career journalist who's been there, done that and seen the rest. Don's been tivoing (is that a verb I wonder?) her Washington Week for me for years now since we're usually just sitting down to dinner when that comes on. I love politics but reading about it can often be a slow grind. Not so here. Gwen's writing style makes the material very accessible for the everyday reader. The thrust of her book is actually about the generation gap that showed through - often in a less than tasteful way - throughout the campaign, between the old guard civil rights warriors like Jessie Jackson, Sr., Rev. Al Sharpton, former Senator Ed Brooke, Vernon Jordan and Andrew Young, to name just a few, and the up and coming African American politicians who were born after the violent work of the '50's and '60's.

Ms. Ifill points up the understandable differences in the way the younger generation sees race relations in terms of votes and politics. Often working against their own families, young men like Chicago's Jessie Jackson, Boston's governor Deval Patrick and Newark's mayor Cory Booker have no illusions about race as an issue but they don't see it as THE issue and that has made all the difference. Much like the young women today who, with options abounding, don't see what all the fuss was about back in Gloria Steinem's day (they probably don't even know the name Betty Friedan), black candidates like Barack Obama have often considered themselves beyond race. It's a lovely thought but Obama found out quickly enough that it wasn't true, and though he tried mightily to keep race out of the campaign, it kept rearing its head until he had to address it boldly in the beautiful speech he gave in the city of brotherly love.

Of course, the worries of the old guard, whether civil rights leaders or Hillary's disappointed feminists, are real. Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, it's said. If today's young women have never seen the consequences of a back street abortion, will they continue the fight for reproductive rights when they sit in the House or the Senate? Will the black mayors of our country's major cities forget the unemployed, the wrongly imprisoned, the homeless, in an overzealous effort to appeal to white America? Ms. Ifill contends that maybe we are finally at a crossroads where we in this country no longer need to take note of "firsts." Perhaps, she hopes, we have come so far that we will "cease to notice them altogether." Now that's change I can believe in!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Odds and Ends

I went away for a long weekend to catch up on my reading, among other things. I finally got into a book that Don gave me for Christmas, The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging! So now I know everything that I'm doing wrong, which is not using enough graphics to keep readers from zoning out with my long rants about books and politics. Looks like I need to spend more time in front of the computer figuring out the tricks of the trade. Like I'm not in front of this damn screen enough? Oy vay.

Books I may not finish:
Saving Savannah; the City and the Civil War by Jacqueline Jones. It's got everything I like: prizewinning writer, plenty of facts/photos all cited, interesting characters who are unsung heros that you've never heard of. What I don't have is time to tackle the 600 pages right now and do it justice. Ever since our trip last fall to Savannah I've had my eye on this book. I may have mentioned that we took the usual, white bread tour of the city one morning and learned the standard history of this lovely southern city. In the afternoon we took the much smaller, but eye-opening, African American tour of Savannah and were introduced to the dark, underbelly of the American city named after the African savannah, built by slaves who worked in the brick factories or toiled in the rice fields. Who knew?
Twice I have been squired past the First African Baptist Church on Johnson Square but it wasn't until the third tour that I was taken inside and learned that this was a stop on the Underground Railroad. We were shown where the slaves hid in the sub-basement and how the woodwork was designed to disguise the breathing holes in the floor.

Reconciliation by Benazir Bhutto. I'm not sure what I expected with this book - perhaps more introspection and historical background? I listened to two cd's before I reluctantly gave up based upon the self-serving tone of Mrs. Bhutto's reflections. I had carefully followed her return from exile to Pakistan fearing for her safety and wondering how a person, a wife, a mother, could put herself directly in harm's way for political reasons. What drives someone to put country or their place in history above themselves? We can think of so many comparable figures in the past who have lived to make a difference or die trying and have changed the course of history. I guess it remains to be seen where Bhutto, her husband and now her son will fit into this big picture.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The reader didn't work for me. My mind kept drifting throughout the first cd. Life's too short. Maybe I'll read it someday but there are so many other fish in the sea!

Books I finished but probably wouldn't recommend:
Clash of Civilizations over an Elevator in the Piazza Vittorio by Amara Lakhous. Is that the best title in the whole world? I picked it up based on the title and a blurb I read in an obscure magazine or on a web site. The clever premise is that a body is found in the elevator of a boarding house peopled with an eclectic group of immigrants who then each speculate about which of their neighbors likely committed the deed. If you remember playing that game "Telephone" when you were a kid, that's what this novel does. Each chapter is a different person's take on all of the others in the boarding house. It soon becomes obvious to the reader that there's a huge communication gap among the neighbors based upon cultural biases and language difficulties. No one really understands what the other is thinking or doing or what motivates them so conclusions are based upon false assumptions. There's a lesson to be learned here and this novel may actually lend itself to a discussion but it's not really what I would call an enjoyable read.

Lulu in Marrakech by Diane Johnson. OK, even I could be a better CIA operative than Lulu. What a ditz. That's all I have to say about that. Have to go mow the lawn before I go to work but tomorrow I'll write about the best new restaurant in town where Maryellen and I shared a fantastic dinner last night.