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When They See Us – You Must Watch This Series

I took a break from reading to watch this series… you should too.

Ava DuVernay’s four part series about the children who were wrongly accused, prosecuted and jailed for a crime they didn’t commit. (93% on Rotten Tomatoes.)

Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us was the first Netflix series that I ever downloaded and watched. I highly recommend that you watch it if you haven’t already.

It is the depiction of what happened to the five Harlem boys who were accused, prosecuted and jailed for attacking and raping the Central Park Jogger in 1989. The story is told from their and their families’ perspectives. Presented in four parts, each about an hour long. Not a huge time commitment but it is an emotional commitment.

It’s hard to watch to because you know what is going to happen and you can not stop it from happening. You can’t tell Kevin to stay home and skip the park. You can’t tell Korey to stay with his girlfriend that night, and then not to go with Yusef to take a little trip downtown the next day. You can’t tell Ray Santana’s dad that he should skip work and stay with his son at the station. You can’t tell Tron’s dad that no, Tron should not sign the made-up confession.

The injustice and inhumanity these boys and their families endured is heartbreaking and infuriating. Everyone should watch and absorb and learn. We should not accept a society that does this to our children.

And, if you doubt that the series is an accurate depiction of what happened, please also watch Ken Burns’ 2 hour 2012 documentary “The Central Park Five”.

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Half Way Check-In

More than half way to my goal!!

Hi everyone – July 3rd here and I haven’t written in a while. The month of June generally kicks my butt and this month was especially cray-cray. So I did read 3’ish books but didn’t really have time to write.

My office after month of June….looks scarier in the pic than in real life….

I also took a day while traveling to download and watch When They See Us – the Ava DuVernay series about the Central Park 5. Highly recommend and will post separately about it.

In any case, as of yesterday I had read 30 books this year so I’m slightly ahead of schedule. Please refer to this page to see the books I’ve read so far this year and here for my favorite books so far.

I’m starting another book – my book club has chosen Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers …. or should I clean the office first?

Say Nothing

But you’ll want to discuss this book!

Gripping story and it’s all true.

My friend and also-avid reader Alix Clyburn suggested this book to me recently. Thank you Alix!!!

Say Nothing A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe (Doubleday, 2019, 348 pages of text but 441 pages including notes and index) is amazing nonfiction that reads like fiction. It tells the intricate story of the last 50 years of the conflict in Northern Ireland also known as the Troubles. Keefe explains the Troubles in a way that is informative and not boring at all.

The book is built around the 1972 disappearance of Jean McConville, a Belfast widow and mother of 10 children. In an interweaving fashion, Keefe introduces us to all of the key figures in the era on both sides of the conflict. We meet Brendan “Darkie” Hughes, Dolours Price and her sister Marian, Frank Kitson, and of course Gerry Adams.

Keefe explains how Gerry Adams transitioned from the ruthless leader of the IRA to the smooth politician who brokered peace. I recall the bomb killing Mountbatten and the hunger strikers… do you remember Bobby Sands? Gerry Adams… I’m going to need a lot of time to ponder and learn more about him. He goes from Mr Head Honcho of the IRA to I Was Never In the IRA in about 5 minutes flat. Though I must admit I can empathize a bit with his motivations…

So what happened to Jean McConville? Although the reader can assume her fate, the excellent story telling has us hanging on through the 350 pages. The ending is satisfying though unsettling…because…Brexit?

In any case, I learned A TON from this book. I feel like I much better understand the Troubles & what has happened in the last 50 years. I highly recommend this book, you are welcome to borrow my copy!

My New Favorite Author

Thoughtful writing, page turning plots, inspiring characters.

As most people in our book club thought the last book was a total slog, we decided to read something that promised to be faster-paced. Karla suggested The River (2019, 253 pages) by Peter Heller. After quickly googling it we all agreed to read it for the next meeting.

Wow did I love it!

What’s to love? A lot:

  • Wynn and Jack are the main characters, best friends taking time off from school to leisurely canoe a river in northern Canada. They are smart, outdoorsmen, and have a beautiful friendship. Parts of their characters are revealed as the canoe trip progresses, and their relationship evolves with the story.
  • This is not just a bromance in the wilderness. This becomes a page-turning drama as things start to get challenging for Wynn and Jack. First here is a huge forest fire they discover coming their way. There are seedy drunk guys who are oblivious to the oncoming danger. Then they hear a couple fighting in the woods….
  • Peter Heller seems to be a true outdoorsman as all of the nature and camping and canoeing details appear to be impeccable, at least to this not very outdoorsy NJ gal.
  • Peter Heller is as good a writer as he is an outdoorsman. With all the action there is still time for reflection and beautiful writing.

I’m not going to tell you the ending – you’ll have to read it for yourself!

But I will tell you that I had to hustle up and read another Peter Heller novel almost immediately. Luckily we had The Dog Stars (2012, 320 pages) on hand because Greg had read it. Although he had recommended it to me I didn’t feel compelled to read it until I had finished The River.

I loved The Dog Stars also! The same excellent writing but different scenario. The main character Hig has survived a flu that has wiped out 99% of all humankind. He lives with his dog Jasper and an old crank survivalist named Bangley. They have figured out a system of living that seems to work for them – until Hig decides he needs to venture beyond their safe zone to see if others like them are out there.

Another page turner & I loved it.

Now need to find some more Peter Heller to read!!!

The Day That Went Missing: A Family’s Story

40 years later, the author documents his own inquest to how his 9 year old brother drowned, and how his family dealt with the death.

Haunting cover, haunting book.

40 years ago off the Cornwall coast while on a family holiday, two young brothers were swimming together. The boys were suddenly in over their heads, and the younger brother drowned. The Day That Went Missing (289 pages, 2018) was written by the surviving brother in an attempt to address what happened that fateful day and the way in which the family dealt with it.

As he reached middle age, Richard Beard realized he needed to confront his brother’s death and explore why he never allowed himself to grieve. For decades Nicky’s name was not mentioned in the family, which included his two parents and two other brothers as well as grandparents. Richard felt the mystery of the details of the day and his long-stifled emotions were negatively impacting his adult relationships. He decided he needed find out what exactly happened to his brother, and how his family reacted after the tragic death.

Beard embarks on his own “inquest” into Nicky’s death, interviewing surviving family members and digging into family memorabilia and history. He returns to the Cornish coast and tries to find the exact beach on which the drowning occurred. He visits the cottage the family had been staying in, and meets one of the rescuers who were dispatched that day when the call for help went out. He pores over any information he can find out about Nicky – his report cards, his letters home from boarding school -in an attempt to better know his brother.

Ultimately Beard uncovers much about his brother, his family and their dynamics, and what actually happened that day. The family’s immediate reaction to Nicky’s death is finally explored; learning of this reaction helps make sense of their decades-long avoidance of discussing Nicky.

The book is haunting and sad yet very well-written and satisfying. I read the Kindle version so unfortunately do not have to lend out!

A State of Freedom by Neel Mukherjee

A not easy novel about life in India.

I grabbed this book at Words, our local bookstore, because it looked interesting and because it had a sticker that noted it was one of the NYT’s 10 Best Books of 2018. I brought it to Florida and tried to dive in after I finished the Andrew Yang book.

It was a tough ride.

The book is broken into five sections that read as stand-alone stories but are interconnected by characters. They are set in various locations in India, and the predominant feelings I got from reading the book were heat, crowdedness and despair.

The very first part that I read that first day was short and depressing. I had to put the book down and didn’t pick it up again until I had read 4 “easier” books (see last post LOL). It’s about an Indian ex-patriot returning with his young son to see tourist sites. I put it down for 7 days after that section.

The second section was more interesting – it concerned an upper class son and his interactions with the maids and cooks that his parents employed. I found the intricacies of the household tempo and daily housekeeping fascinating.

I did not like the third section. It’s about a peasant and a bear that he captures and trains to “dance” as they wander around trying to make money. These characters appear as a clause in the first section.

The fourth section tells the backstory of one of the maids in the second section. It is more readable than the other sections but still tough.

The last section is the shortest and honestly I skimmed it as I was about done with the book. The narrator is connected to the first and third sections as far as I can tell.

So overall – I don’t really recommend this book for the faint of heart, unless you are into the nitty gritty of basic peasant life in India. This book was raw and while maybe well-written and meaningful, I was distracted by the feelings of “omg”. I may try it again in the future…

Revisiting Elizabeth Berg, Sue Miller, Claire Messud

Grading my spring break reads.

Nothing beats reading on the beach!

I read a few quick books in succession this week while in Florida for the kids’ spring break. I had packed a few books for the trip; I finished Andrew Yang’s book (see last post) and started A State of Freedom by Neel Mukerjee but didn’t love it (see next post yet to be written LOL). So I hit up the library at Dad & Sue’s clubhouse and picked/read these books.

I probably should have planned more diligently before the trip but hey, live and learn. I definitely firmed up opinions about the authors, all of whom I thought I had previously read!

Open House by Elizabeth Berg (2001, 272 pages)… Elizabeth Berg is an author I have read previously and enjoyed. Although I just looked up her list of books and I’m not sure which I have read (will have to check my bookshelves!) I guess her books maybe are a little interchangeable? I didn’t love this book – thought it preyed on emotions and I didn’t relate to the main character at all. Spring Break Grade: D+ I won’t be reading Elizabeth Berg again, my tastes have changed since I first read her!

The Senator’s Wife by Sue Miller (2008, 306 pages)… Sue Miller wrote the book The Good Mother which was a big hit way back in 1994. I recall reading it & enjoying it (though never saw the movie). I liked The Senator’s Wife because it delves into marital relationships though I didn’t buy how it ultimately ended. It was interesting and kept me reading but it wasn’t awesome. Spring Break Grade: C+: if I was on a deserted island and the only book was by Sue Miller, I would read it.

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud (2013, 272 pages)…I picked up this book because I knew I had enjoyed Claire Messud before but I was confusing her with Julia Glass. (Julia Glass wrote The Three Junes, A House Among Trees, The Widower’s Tail – all of which I read & liked!) OK – so this book was a little long and overly wrought with the relationship between the main character (38 year old unmarried Nora) with a family of 3 (international artist, scholar & 3rd grade son), but it surprised me with its depth of feeling, passion for creating art, and how it all ended. I will be thinking about this for a while. Spring Break Grade: B+/A-: I will definitely seek out another Claire Messud novel.

The War On Normal People

“Scarcity will not save us. Abundance will.”

Is Andrew Yang’s name familiar to you yet? If it isn’t it will be soon. He is in the large field of Democratic presidential hopefuls for 2020. I just finished his book titled The War On Normal People (2018, 244 pages) which presents his proposal for a Universal Basic Income (UBI) and human-based capitalism for our country.

It’s worth a read- it’s fast, compelling, and provides an alternate view of what the United States can look like in future years.

The first 1/3 describes his own experience as the child of immigrants and a successful entrepreneur whose focus was creating jobs. He is convinced we are in the beginning of huge economic and technologic change that has already eradicated millions of manufacturing jobs (it’s not the migrants or China, Donald!). Retail jobs are soon to disappear (how many places have self-check out now?), followed by truck driving jobs (driverless trucks are being tested), and then even white-collar jobs (computers can read radiology reports with greater precision than the human eye).

The second third describes what is happening to our society as the economy changes. We have “bubbles” in several areas in which there is thriving economy and society, but we have scarcity and poverty in cities where the manufacturing jobs have already disappeared. This part is depressing because if all the jobs are going as Yang predicts, then it’s easy to fear that our whole country will end up like Youngstown Ohio.

But don’t worry – there’s the final third which is much more optimistic and lays out Yang’s vision for our future. The bottom line need is that we need to shift from market-focused capitalism, which only values efficiency, to human-based capitalism, which values people, relationships and society.

A few of Yang’s ideas- he goes into more depth of course in the book:

  • The UBI would apply to every adult in our country and would take the strain off of regions that lose jobs as workers are displaced by automation.
  • People would earn credits for helping others that they could use for buying things or to pay others to help them.
  • The healthcare system needs to be re-vamped and should not be tied to employment.

If you don’t think these things can work please give the book a try – Yang presents studies and statistics that support his hypotheses. Happy to lend you our copy (Greg got it as a Christmas gift!)!

Beale Street: the Book, not the Movie

The book is always better than the movie!

James Baldwin is an author I’m not very familiar with. Last year I read Giovanni’s Room and enjoyed it but it didn’t “grab”me. Recently I noticed If Beale Street Could Talk at the local book store…I knew Regina King had won an Oscar for her role in the movie. Everyone knows books are better than movies, so I figured I’d go with the book.

Wow. What a book. And now I need to see the movie!

Set in the 1960’s, Beale Street is told from the perspective of Tish, a young African American girl whose fiancé Fonny is imprisoned. Tish also happens to be pregnant with their child. The story is not told in a linear fashion but it flows nicely and it is easy to follow. Maybe you’ve seen the movie & so I don’t need to re-hash it for you…. but here is what I liked about the book:

  • This is a beautiful love story. Tish and Fonny have been friends since childhood and have loved each other always. Baldwin presents it beautifully.
  • The story is set in New York City -the young couple grew up in Harlem with their families. 21 year old Fonny has found a “pad” in Greenwich Village in which he is sculpting. He and Tish consummate their love here, they hang out here, and he and Tish have found a loft in which they hope to move to. The city is a huge part of the story.
  • I am in awe of the love and support that Tish has from her parents and sister. Fonny’s mom and sisters are tougher nuts, but Fonny’s dad and Tish’s family support the two kids as they deal with Fonny’s incarceration and Tish’s pregnancy.
  • This was published in 1974 but is just as timely today as it was then. Especially pertaining to unjust incarceration of black men.

Please let me know if you’ve happen to have both read the book and seen the movie…ALSO please let me know if you’ve ever seen a movie that is better than the book it’s based upon!

Two Books to Check Out

Two New-To-Me Authors – Now I want to read everything by them!

  • Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
  • You Think It, I’ll Say It Stories by Curtis Sittenfeld

Last week I devoured Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger (2013, 307 pages). It has been on my to-read list and then it was selected by my book group so voila – two birds with one stone.

I loved it. It tells the story of how people living in a small town in 1961 rural Minnesota deal with life’s sorrows. Frank, the narrator, is 13 years old and the middle child of a minister. Although there is much sadness in the book, there is equal if not more love and grace.

The feeling and cadence of the author recall Marilynne Robinson and Kent Haruf – other authors who have written about small towns and grace. Once introduced to these authors I quickly read their other books and I plan to do the same with Mr. Krueger’s.

You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld (2018, 223 pages) is an entertaining offering of ten short stories. I’ve not read any of her novels -mainly because Eligible was described as un updated Pride and Prejudice and who messes with the master? But I’m happy to say I will now add her novels to my To-Read list!

Ms. Sittenfeld’s characters and situations are relatable. There are embedded mysteries, there are complicated relationships, there are ordinary and unusual situations. One recurring theme is the I’m-all-alone-in-my-situation – you know – when you think you’re the only person in the world with a particular issue or problem. Another is that of the former high school dork who now has gained confidence and insight to his/her former self.

I liked all of her characters and found myself wondering how I would act or conduct myself in the situations. I also reflected upon how people put themselves in self-constructed roles and dramas. Something that’s good to think about because I haven’t yet outgrown this tendency!

Let me know if you’ve read any other books by either of these authors and which you recommend!