January Book Report

Friday, January 7, 2011
This here's my book report for January. I'll try to be organized and do this once a month. So no matter where I am, I'll stop reading and let you in on my life in books.

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. A powerful good story. First off, I love a book with a good organizing device, and this one relies on a common event - the tightrope walker who crossed the Twin Towers in 1974. I remember something about this event in real life. I was getting ready to start high school just outside NYC at the exact moment Philippe Petit stepped out on the tightrope. Each character is expertly drawn. Can a writer man truly imagine life as a woman, as a white woman preparing for a get-together in her Park Avenue apartment? As a mother losing a son? As an older black woman? A young prostitute? Many times the answer is, "No, Mr. Writer can't." The fact that McCann can imagine the interior and exterior dialogue of some many characters is something to behold. Above all, every last character, every last movement and thought rings true.  Side note: he seems to pick people to portray that we are most likely to walk by without a thought. The little people, you know? Who no one is going to bother to portray...

The most riveting part of this book was the unlikely friendship between Claire {white woman} and Gloria {black woman}. How easily it could have evaporated and thankfully, didn't. Yet it's not a book about race. It is a story of hope. Else I couldn't have stood it.

The novel started off slow for me at first (there is only so much Irish tenement and misery I can stand), but then accelerates with force. No less moving is the prologue, where the author tell us he keeps his father-in-law's soot-covered shoes from Sept 11 in a box behind him as he writes.

God vs. Darwin: The War between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom by Manl Singham. Full disclosure. I picked this up because of Kid2's writing assignment in Physics. (This is what you get when Physics is taught in a church environment - not complaining, just saying) Evolution vs. God. Apparently this question had the country tied in knots in 1925, culminating in the famous Scopes trial (Jennings vs. Darrow), which actually turns out to have been an attempt by some city fathers to put a small town in Tennessee on the map. (They figured a big trial would bring more business into town and agreed among themselves who would accuse who of what...)

At the end I am left with these contradictory (but in my mind perfectly acceptable) truths. Evolution is proven beyond a doubt. We all have the same ancestors. And we couldn't have come to be just by chance. There had to have been a divine hand in it from the get-go. I'm not doing the issue justice here, but it's not the "Inherit the Wind" story you thought you knew.

Time of My Life: A Novel by Alison Winn Scotch. So this 30-something Pottery-Barn, Starbucks, soul-searching mother of one, wife to successful but hardworking if slightly dull man is wondering if she made the right decision marrying her man. So naturally, since she quit her uber-fascinating job to full-time mother, her thoughts take her back to her old boyfriend and the "What if..." question. "What if I'd married the magical free-spirited him instead." And poof! Apparently deep tissue massages give you the power to time travel. At any rate, she is whisked back in time her life with the old boyfriend and chooses the road un-taken, only to find, some xxx pages later, like Dorothy, "There's no place like home, there's no place like home." Once I figured out she wasn't going to save the world in her time-travel, but just her marriage, I skipped to the end to see how it all turned out. [Sorry, if I could time travel, I would have stopped, like, Sept 11 from happening, but that's just me.] I did love the cover art, so she gets a point for that.

The Mindful Way through Depression by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and my personal favorite, Jon Kabat-Zinn. If you don't know I am serotonin-challenged, certainly you will now. I am always looking for the answer, the thing that's going to take me from cranky, glass-half-empty Eeyore to vivacious Disney-princess extrovert. And this book could do it, if only I would actually do the exercises. Basic premise: thinking your way through depression won't work  ("Why am I like this, why can't I ever be happy"). Instead, focus on the moment ("Whoa, this peanut butter sure is crunchy."). And here's how. Step-by-step, thought-by-thought, meditation by meditation. No surprises, it takes extreme discipline to change your thought patterns because your brain is apt to travel the road more travelled, so to speak. Absolutely excellent resource, and when I am less depressed, I will pick it up again.

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