Friday, May 26, 2017

Etta and Otto and Russell and James

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper  305 pp.

Eighty-three year old Etta leaves a note for her husband, takes some chocolate, a shotgun, and her best boots to set off on a 3000 mile walk from their farm in Saskatchewan to the Atlantic Ocean because she's never seen it. In her note she says she will "try to remember to come back". Otto, the husband, takes this matter-of-factly and sets about learning to cook for himself. Their friend Russell is upset at Etta's disappearance and sets out to find her. Along the way Etta meets James, a talking coyote who travels with her and may or may not be real. There are flashbacks to the human characters' childhoods and young adult days, the years of World War II, and Etta and Otto's marriage. Much of the story leaves you wondering what is real and what is in the heads of the characters. The ending is bewildering and intriguing, leaving it up to the interpretation of the reader. I'm still not sure about this one.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

This is just my face

This is just my face: try not to stare / Gabourey Sidibe, 246 pgs.

Ms Sidibe is so funny and such a great writer, someone should put her in movies...wait, they already have.  Ok, put her on TV...too late for that too.  How about let her direct something...ok, my real hope is that she will record an audio version of her memoir.  I think it would be amazing to hear it in her own voice because the book is so fabulous.  If you have not seen her in anything yet, make it a priority.  This book just confirms that I've got good taste.

The diving pool

The diving pool: three novellas / Yoko Ogawa, 164 pgs.

Three novellas that are each a bit bizarre which makes them memorable.  The first is The diving pool which tells of a one-sided obsession of a girl towards her foster brother.  She has a few issues of her own but is the one biological child of her parents who run a large foster home.  She obviously feels some neglect but is also counting on her actions not being noticed.  Over time, she realizes Han, the focus of her obsession seems to know of all of her slightly evil deeds.

Next is Pregnancy Diary which is the diary of the sister of a pregnant woman.  She recounts all the odd behavior of her sister and then sort of reveals that it isn't really the pregnancy that is to blame for much of it, her sister is just pretty odd.

Finally Dormitory takes a woman back to the place she lived in college and the manager of the dormitory.  An out of town cousin is coming to go to school and is too late for regular housing so she gets him into the private dorm where she used to live.  She becomes obsessed with the manager, a man she had few dealings with as a student, and returns each day to care for him. A strangely moving tale.

Japanese literature with more than a passing resemblance to Murikami.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Einstein's Cosmos

Einstein's Cosmos: How Einstein's Vision Transformed Our Understanding of Space and Time by Michio Kaku  251 pp.

This book is a brief history of Albert Einstein's career and his achievements in the world of physics and the impact his theories on scientific discovery in the year's since. Many people believe that Einstein wasted the last twenty-five years of his life in the search for a Grand Unification Theory and that he was against the theories of quantum physics. Kaku uses the discovery of some later Einstein papers to show how his work after the Theory of Relativity and the Special Theory of Relativity was geared to finding a way to connect those theories to quantum theory. Kaku also explains how without the work of Einstein, none of the current work of CERN and other scientists would even be possible. Kaku, also a theoretical physicist, is able to explain the theories and physics research in a way that is understandable to the lay person.  

Saints for All Occasions

Saints for All Occasions / J. Courtney Sullivan, 335 pp.

The story of two young sisters, Nora and Theresa, who leave Ireland in the 1950s and head to Boston.  Their paths diverge quickly when one of them becomes pregnant by a married man.  The consequences of their rift play out over generations, and a kind of resolution comes only years later at the funeral of Patrick, one sister's son.

Sullivan writes using straightforward, plain language, which gives an emotionally-charged tale nice balance.  The excellent sense of time, place and people here would lead me to pick up another Sullivan novel.   My only objection to Saints was a later chapter or two detailing the travails of Catholic women religious in the U.S.,  a cause with which I am wholly sympathetic; but the inclusion felt forced and was unnecessary to the plot.

Monday, May 22, 2017

A Short History of Nearly Everything

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson  544 pp.

Bill Bryson takes on science in this book that covers a bit of everything from the big bang to biochemistry. Obviously it's not an exhaustive and detailed overview but it hits upon salient points on the evolution of theories about life, the universe, and everything (with apologies to the late Douglas Adams). I listened to the audio book version and found it lacking. Bryson is known for including humor, frequently of the dry sort, in his writing. The narrator of this book, Richard Matthews, besides being distinctly British reads much of the book in the same tone throughout. You have to listen very carefully to catch Bryson's humorous conjectures among the facts especially in the first half of the book. I don't know if the narrator became more comfortable with the work as he went along or I just got used to his way of reading. But it seems to me he loosened up a bit as the book went on.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, 327 pages

As soon as I saw the title of this book, I thought, "Oh, she is SO not fine." Because really, who says they're completely fine and isn't lying? And sure enough, Eleanor Oliphant is not fine. Oh, she thinks she is — at the beginning of this book, Miss Oliphant (I suspect that she would insist upon being referred to in this manner) is chugging along through life, working in an office, eating pasta at home every night, and spending her weekends drinking vodka. Alone. But a chance encounter with Raymond, the new IT guy at work, spins Miss Oliphant's carefully measured life into a tailspin.

This is Honeyman's debut novel, and wow, it is fantastic. It doesn't have a huge plot — most of the events are the sorts of things that happen every day, like visiting someone in the hospital or going out to lunch with a coworker — but that's good, as it gives Miss Oliphant's emotional struggle the space it needs to fully play out. I also really liked seeing friendship develop between Raymond and Miss Oliphant; Raymond is the friend ALL of us need, and I loved seeing Miss Oliphant come to that realization. A phenomenal debut. I look forward to seeing what the author has in store in the future.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Such a lovely little war: Saigon 1961-63

Such a lovely little war: Saigon 1961-63 / Marcelino Truong, 273 pgs.

The author was a very young boy early in the Vietnam War.  His father was a diplomat and his mother, a French national.  They lived in Saigon as things were heating up.  Nobody thought the war would affect the city but as time went on, things got dicier.  The author's mother suffered from extreme stress and developed bi-polar disorder due to the difficulty coping.  This memoir uses letters written by the author's mother, historical facts  as well as the perspective of a young boy.  The illustrations are great and the story shows a different perspective on the war and its effect on the family.

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir / Jennifer Ryan, 371 pgs. Read by a full cast

Revealed through letters and journal entries, this book tells us about a five month period during World War II when the Nazi's were bombing England.  The village of Chilbury is the central setting proving that it is NOT a sleepy little hamlet.  There is action everywhere!  Young men are leaving for service, women are off to work and there is all kinds of romance and heartbreak. The characters are not all admirable but they are all interesting.  The audiobook is read by a full cast and they do a wonderful job.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Republic of Spin

Republic of spin: an inside history of the American presidency / David Greenberg, 557 pgs.

An interesting history of the the American presidency and the efforts of presidents to communicate with the public. Starting with FDR and ending with Obama, the book details the professional efforts of PR and media consultants that have aided every president to make their case to the public. I liked learning how the various presidents tried to deny that they hired and depended on people to help them look better, sound better, and be more persuasive. Not an easy read but a reminder about how the technology has changed but not the intent.