Books read in November

I fell off my “one book at a time” pledge this month for a few reasons. One is that I’ve begun to read the ten books I need to read for the Mock Printz workshop which is happening in January. I am feeling various emotions about them, mostly having to do with ambivalence. At the same time, I have discovered a fabulous new YA series by Jaclyn Moriarty that I’ve been tearing through. Plus, other interesting books (eeeeeee! Moonlight Mile!!!!!!) have been arriving in my life. So I find myself putting down the required reading for the book candy.

Also, what’s up with Mississippi/the south? The Help is set in Mississippi as is Spies from Mississippi, which I started this month and finished in December. I also read Jubilee which is set in Georgia and Alabama. Plus I started reading Radical Equations, which is about math and civil rights. There’s some sort of southern zeitgeist going on right now, I just can’t for the life of me figure out why.

Margaret Walker
I read this for the library book group and it was a great selection. Initially, I wasn’t that into it and assigned myself to read two chapters per night, which would have me finishing right before the book discussion. It took me a bit to warm up to Vyry, the slave who is the main character. Eventually though, I got caught up in the book and raced ahead of my reading schedule.

I haven’t read a slave narrative in years. They seem to have fallen out of fashion, though I’m not sure why. There’s plenty of drama and pathos in the slave-to-freedom transition. At any rate, if you are looking for a good book, slave narrative or no, grab this book. It probably won’t have any holds at your library as it was published in 1966.

The Help
Kathryn Stockett
I greatly enjoyed this novel, but had to take breaks from it, due to the injustice of the character’s situations. Well written, with a nice tension building throughout the book, I recommend this to anyone interested in the Jim Crow to Civil Rights Era in Mississippi.

Moonlight Mile
Dennis Lehane
This seems to be shorter then any of the other Kenzie/Gennaro books and much more set in the present day. However, some of us will take any opportunity to drop in on these two Boston P.I.s, so this was a treat. The mystery is woven through with a lot of class commentary and is not as labyrinth as others in the series, but I still enjoyed it. A quick read, and I was particularly satisfied with decisions made by the main characters at the end of the book.

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors
Francisco X. Stork
Read this for the 2010 Mock Printz, spoilers are included.

Moderately enjoyable while reading, very enjoyable upon reflection. Both boys in the story are well drawn, the “dying of cancer one” is not too angelic, the “angry young man” is nuanced in his anger, so does not become a caricature of himself. I did find that the various threads of the story seemed to be dropped abruptly and then picked up again, which was distracting, but in a minor way. Also done well was a subtle commentary on class and race and parts of the book were funny, which always helps during the chemotherapy vomiting scenes and other times. I enjoyed the dance between two guys who both want the girl. The orphanage seemed rather idyllic, do such places exist? The big confrontation scene was tense, but also partially unbelievable. As was the “one sip of one drink and I can die” malady. I think as an adolescent, I would have accepted all three at face value. The way the minor characters were written was very good. They are all clear pictures in my mind, especially Juan. The stepfather was the worst, very “random jerk lawyer.”

Feeling Sorry for Celia
Jaclyn Moriarty
Great book of the “letters back and forth genre.” I especially like the “disparaging voices of the conscious” represented as letters from various societies and association, such as the “Cold Hard Truth Association” and the “Association of Teenagers.” While I think it is rare for teenagers to write actual letters today, making this a bit unbelievable, the plot device introduced to get the main characters started on their letters and friendship was quite believable. I especially enjoyed Elizabeth’s mother’s notes to her daughter which managed to combine commentary about life, work, instructions for dinner, concern and humor all in short paragraphs.

The Lost Art of Real Cooking
Ken Albala & Rosanna Nafziger
Aside from having hard-to-spell last name, Ken and Rosanna have in common their interest in food. Food created by hand without a lot of fuss (or with some fuss) that tastes good. The recipes, written in paragraph style, look very delicious, and the writing is sparkling. Take this paragraph:

Turks invade Hungary, and the stage is violently set for the remarkable collision of flaky layered pastry (nee phyllo) and apples. Five hundred years later, Julie Andrews is singing about brown paper packages and warm apple strudel, under threat of yet another invasion–the Germans. Such a violent past for something so delightful.

This book is currently very popular at the library and thus I won’t get to spend as much time with it as I would like. I think I will concentrate on their sourdough bread section, return the book, request it again and when it arrives, incorporate something else.

Janne Teller
Read this for the 2010 Mock Printz, spoilers are included.

Hated this book. HATED IT! I think this might mean to be a fable or allegory or something like that, but I found it very unlikable. First off, a seventh grader climbs into a tree because he decides nothing has meaning. He throws plums at his classmates and shouts his new-found beliefs. I can see this happening for an hour or two, or even a day, but that kid stays up there yelling for months. Does he climb down at night? Where does he go to the bathroom?

His classmates, instead of ignoring him, decide to prove him wrong. So they start collecting things with meaning. First they ask the townspeople to give up something meaningful and collect quite a pile. Then they begin to give up their own meaningful things in turn. What starts out as sacrificing really cute sandals grows by degree until the Muslim child gives up his prayer mat and is severely beaten by his parents, a pious child steals a large statue of Jesus from the church, a girl gives up her virginity, the children dig up a dead baby brother from a church yard and, just when you think it can’t get any worse, they kill a dog. At that point, I had to skip ahead five pages so I could bypass the dog killing.

Their pile of meaning is found out, pronounced art, bought by the MoMa for 3.5 million dollars, the children turn on each other, end up beating the plum-throwing, life-has-no-meaning child to death and burning down the sawmill that houses the pile of meaning. The whole thing is a nihilistic mess and I can only be glad that it was a short book and I have now finished reading it.

Remember to wave
Kaia Sand
The delightful 80+ year old volunteer at school gave this book to me because she thought I would “get it.” It’s a good poetic examination of the internment of the Portland-area Japanese during WWII, the flooding of Vanport and also the drowning of Celilo Falls. The Expo center, where the Japanese were houses, and the site of Vanport are very near my house and I enjoyed how Sand linked the present day Max stops to the history of the area.

Started but did not finish
Radical Equations: Civil Rights from Mississippi to the Algebra Project
Robert P. Moses
Civil rights pioneer wrote this book illustrating his journey from civil rights activist to math activist. He sees the disinterest in math education as creating a new generation of “sharecroppers” and has founded the Algebra Project to combat this.

The book spends a lot of time in Mississippi talking about Moses’ civil rights days. I was looking for more information about the Algebra Project and lost interest in the book. I might pick it up again later.

A conspiracy of kings
Megan Whalen Turner
Read for 2010 Mock Printz, spoilers are included

This was very readable for the first half as I followed the sorry, pampered prince from his soft cocoon through his kidnapping and enslavement. His escape from slavery was quite dramatic too. But then the narrative shifted and all these people came on the scene and everyone seemed to know each other and I was very, very confused before I figured out that this must be a series book. Indeed, it’s number four in the series. I’ve stopped reading, because the whole thing is boring to me at this point, a bunch of people talking about times they had that I haven’t also experienced while also seeming to very slowly plot things. However, I will read the first book, which I’ve been told is awesome, and see if I can work my way back to this one.

Healing Power: Ten Steps to Pain Management and Spiritual Evolution
Philip Shapiro, M.D.
I got this book because its author was featured in the Oregonian as a psychiatrist who works with chronic homeless people. His book sounded interesting and I was wondering if I could use some of his steps to help manage the psoriasis that has taken up residence on my body. The chapters are short and the writing style is abrupt. There are questions at the end of every chapter which would be good for discussion. I did not finish this book because all of my reading tasks overwhelmed me and it needed to go back to the library. I may read it again.

One thought on “Books read in November”

  1. Perhaps your reading lists are trying to tell you that a trip to the South and a road trip with me should be in your future! 🙂 As always – I am impressed with your level of reading, despite your busyness.

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