Friday, April 20, 2018
But I think there's another side, too. Reading can and should be fun and entertaining but it also has the capability to make us think. It can teach us about the science and history of the world we live in. Books can compel us to ask hard questions about ourselves and the choices we make individually and collectively.
I like to read for fun, but I also enjoy being challenged. I recently read What Are We Doing Here?, which is Marilynne Robinson's newest collection. The book mostly contains speeches that she has given over the past few years. They are not easy reading--the speeches consider our history as Americans, what it means to be a person of faith in the 21st century, and the place of both humanities and science. I so appreciated that both Robinson and her publisher saw the opportunity for readers to do some hard reading and think about big questions, even if they only knew her as the author of novels.
After graduating from high school or college, there is not a requirement for most of us to continue learning. We don't have to learn a new language, or learn how to write code for our website, or read hard books. But what are we missing if we don't?
Reading doesn't have to always be complicated or always be carefree. How wonderful it is to live in a world where we can read a cozy romance with the knowledge that they will get their happy ending and then turn to a book that explains the complexities of space or physics. Readers have the unique joy and privilege of experiencing all worlds, both real and imagined, and I intend to try to read about all of them.
Thursday, April 19, 2018
My Dear Hamilton strikes the perfect balance of being familiar to readers who know a little about Alexander Hamilton while giving added depth to Eliza. They bookend the story with President James Monroe appearing to an elderly Eliza, hoping that the two can reconcile. From this point, Eliza thinks back through her life and readers witness a young woman in war time, a mother trying to provide for everyone in her family, and a wife wounded by her husband's betrayal.
Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie have done a wonderful job in making Eliza a fully realized character, in spite of her leaving so few of her own letters and documents behind. I love that Eliza begins her story by telling readers "I was someone before I met Alexander Hamilton. Not someone famous or important or with a learned philosophical understanding of all that was at stake in our revolution. Not a warrior or a philosopher or statesman. But I was a patriot. I was no unformed skein of wool for Hamilton to weave together into any tapestry he wished. That's important for me to remember now, when every thread of my life has become tangled with everything he was...I was, long before he came into my life, a young woman struggling to understand her place in a changing world."
The book is a long one, but it's intriguing to see Eliza grow and change over several decades. It's clear from the note in the beginning to the last page of this story that Dray and Kamoie are rightly fascinated by this turbulent time in American history and the brave women and men who defined it. If you are a reader who loves historical fiction or a a person who weeps every time you hear them sing "Who tells your story? Eliza" in the Hamilton finale, you need to read this book.
My Dear Hamilton
A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton
By Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
William Morrow Paperbacks April 2018
Received from the publisher for TLC Book Tours
Tuesday, April 17, 2018
The Shadow of the Crescent Moon is one of those books where very little happens. The book only covers three hours in the lives of one family, but each of them think back through their history so the reader comes to understand who these people are and the events that have made them this way. This story is framed through the eyes of the three brothers, but the characters who really shine are Samarra, a radical young woman with ties to both Aman and Hayat, and Mina, Sikander's wife who is grieving war and loss in a very peculiar way. Author Fatima Bhutto makes it seem like there are good people and bad people but, as pieces are slowly revealed, we learn that these are just people trying to save themselves and the ones they hold dear. By the end of the book, you may want to turn back to the beginning and read it all again to see which seemingly mundane moments were actually the ones to change everything.
The Shadow of the Crescent Moon
By Fatima Bhutto
Penguin Press March 2015
From the library
Every time that Chantel Acevedo changed perspective, I grieved for a few pages to lose the motherly insight of Amalia or the childhood memories of a princess. But she has created such unforgettable characters in a princess, a wet nurse, and her son that I would happily read hundreds more pages about any of them. Eulalia really was a Spanish princess who visited Cuba and the World's Fair in 1839. She did have a wet nurse from a poor village, but the life and character of Tomas are invented by the author. If, like me, you don't know much about this time period in Spain, The Living Infinite will give you an excellent primer on the late 1800s. But more than that, Chantel Acevedo has written a truly beautiful story about creating your own life, even under the shadow of bad choices or a royal title.
The Living Infinite
By Chantel Acevedo
Europa Editions September 2017
From the library
Tuesday, April 10, 2018
The story itself is a really engaging one. We see Rachel in the present as she tries to make good decisions, realizing that the decisions that make her a good mother are not always the ones that will keep her safe and happy. Horn also takes us into Rachel's past at several different points, but we spend the most time at the beginning with the son whose life she saved. We also meet Elazar, the boy's father, who made a similar sacrifice and follows Rachel through time. They spend some lives together, taking solace in the face that one other person knows what it is like to be immortal. In others, Rachel runs as far away as possible from the man who knows too much about her and has hurt her too many times. It is the highest of compliments that I would have followed Rachel through all of her lives, because Horn gives her characters so much of the nuance and contradiction that makes them seem to come alive right on the page.
Dara Horn writes fascinating novels that grapple with complex questions of faith and morality. In Eternal Life, the question at hand is what it means for us to be human. Would immortality render us more human as we live through life after life of mistakes and joys or would the ability to have another chance make us something other than human? If there is no end, do the moments that make life meaningful become more precious or do they mean nothing at all?
Also by Dara Horn: A Guide for the Perplexed
By Dara Horn
W.W. Norton Company January 2018
From the library
Thursday, April 5, 2018
Bury What We Cannot Take maintains a level of tension rarely seen in books other than thrillers. From the first pages when the children make their discovery, there is a very real possibility that someone will be imprisoned, killed, or lost to their family forever. This powerful book looks at the process of making difficult decisions and the repercussions that we never imagined. Everyone in this tale makes choices--Bee Kim made the choice to destroy the picture, Seok Koon decided which child to take to Hong Kong, Ah Zhai left his family to pursue another life in Hong Kong, and Ah Liam chose to put party ahead of his family. The only one who doesn't make a definitive choice is San San, but she is the one who must deal with the consequences.
Kirstin Chen is a writer who is careful and precise with her words. Beautiful writing and a tense and powerful story of the uncertainty of living in Communist China make Bury What We Cannot Take a book you don't want to miss.
Bury What We Cannot Take
By Kirstin Chen
Little A March 2018
Read via Netgalley
Tuesday, April 3, 2018
This tiny book contains a very large list with two kinds of entries. There are suggestions on ways to start a creative life, like taking a pottery class, designing a roller coaster, or inventing a new cocktail. Some of the points are thoughts about what it means to live a creative life. Kipfer encourages readers to remember that there is no such thing as the "right" starting place, that you will need breaks and rest, and that your creativity will grow as you continue to work on it. There are also quotes from famous creative people throughout and pages of inspiration, where the author challenges her readers to ask "what if?" or go on a creativity field trip.
This is a charming book. I think the best place for it is close to your piano or sewing corner or on the kitchen counter, nestled in with your favorite cookbooks. I'm planning to leave it on my son's bookshelf for the next time he's tempted to tell me that he's bored. While I wouldn't recommend reading straight through, I can certainly see myself flipping through its pages when I need to try something new or find a bit of inspiration.
1,001 Ways to Be Creative
By Barbara Ann Kipfer
National Geographic March 2018
Received from the publisher for TLC Book Tours