Books Read in March 2013

Only one “grown-up” book this month and the rest of reading was full-up with books for children and teenagers.  But some good stuff there.

Vivian Maier Out of the Shadows
Cahan & Williams
I found out about Vivan Maier because I downloaded the Fathom Events movie theater show of This American Life.  I paid five dollars to watch that show and I had an amazing two hours.  Vivian Maier was one of the discoveries.  This book publishes a retrospective of Maier’s work and short essays tell the photographer’s story.  Maier’s work is stunning–her portraits of people she encountered are moving.  Her body of work is even more amazing when a page of her negatives are viewed.  She mostly just took one shot of each subject.  But what a shot.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Benjamin Alire Saenz
Read for Librarian Book Group
Wonderful story of two friends in high school, chock-full of poetic details.  This deserves a longer review, because I really liked it, but it isn’t going to get one.

In Darkness
Nick Lake
Read for Librarian Book Group
This was dark and disturbing, but the good kind of dark and disturbing  where I’m happy the book has won major awards.  Good insight into 19th century slave rebellion and present-day Haitian ghetto (or so I assume, having not experience either time or place.)

Love and Other Perishable Items
Laura Buzo
Read for Librarian Book Group
I love this book and not just because I’ve written an essay on a similar topic. Here is why this book has a place in my heart.  Our female lead is Amelia,  a 15-year-old in typical adolescent transition.  Her parents seem unhappy; it’s that time when the boys are starting to notice the girls at school and she’s not sure what to do with that.  She works in a supermarket and is hopelessly in love with her 21-year-old coworker, though she knows nothing can ever come of it. “I’m not even sure what ‘getting’ Chris would involve; all I know is I want him” she says early on in the book.

Meanwhile, our male lead is Chris, the 21-year-old coworker at the grocery store.  He’s in his last gasps of college, his friends are moving on to other things and he’s paralyzed by both the looming future and a broken heart.  I love that this book details the post-college transition, which for me was horrible and made more horrible by the fact that no one told me it was coming.  I read a lot of novels and nothing ever addressed the transition to full-on adulthood.  This does.

It also captures the hierarchies of the supermarket.  If the author didn’t put in some hours working as a grocery clerk at some point in her life, she sure knows how to do her research.  The story is told in alternating voices, first Ameila’s, and then the journal of Chris.  In the beginning he has no idea Amelia feels anything for him.  What will happen when he figures it out?  Therein lies the dramatic tension.

This book is also funny, taking the ache of what one can’t have (for Ameilia, Chris; for Chris, his departed girlfriend) and finding the humor in the pathos.  Take this (rather long) excerpt from Chris’ journals:

“Last night was just a temporary setback, a stumble, a blip in the getting-over-it process.  I really was doing a bit better.  I was dealing with the pain.  Or at least successfully medicating it with ever-increasing amounts of alcohol and caffeine.  When I read back over what I’d written, I seriously thought about ripping out all the pages. It was a pretty poor showing all the way through, but when I got to the bit where I was writing out the lyrics from the Dire Straits “Romeo and Juliet” song, I had to rip that out.

“But then, I really want to be more honest in this dairy than I have been in past ones, so everything else stays in.  It’s bad enough that I present such a heavily edited version of myself to my friends and family; if I start editing my diary, it will reinforce my already overwhelming tendency to be gutless.  But let us never speak of it.

“For the record, she really did cry when we made love and said she loved me like the stars above and would love until she died.  But, you know, people say shit in the moment.”

I laughed, my heartstrings were tugged, I think you should read this.

The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight
Thom Hartman
Read for Kenton Book Group
The first third of this book outlines all the problems we’ve got going on, on this planet.  Since this book was published originally in 1998, it covered ground I was pretty familiar with.  No solutions were offered, though.  Then, there was a section about culture and then a third section.  Hartman is fond of “Old Way” thinking, characterizing modern society as “Young Way” thinking.  According to him, primitive cultures had it going on. But what to do about the fact that we don’t live in primitive cultures anymore?  There are no solutions in this book!  Near the end, I hit this paragraph which made things clear:

“Missing the point of a book like this is quite easy to do, because the book makes a radical departure from the normal fare of self-help and environmentalism.  It presents the problems, delves into the causes of them, and then presents as a solution something that many may think couldn’t possibly be a solution because it seems unfathomably difficult:  change our culture, beginning with yourself.”

Okay then.  I’m off to change the culture, beginning with myself.

Nelson Mandela
Kadir Nelson
Read for Librarian Book Group
Very pretty picture book.  Had one hitch in the narrative early on where I had to flip backwards to regain equilibrium.

Penny and Her Marble
Kevin Henkes
Read for Librarian Book Group
I found this to be so-so in that the values seemed rather traditional in a stagnated type of way.

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