Book Challenge by Erin update 2017

Look at me, I’m reading!

Good day, Readers! Welcome fellow Book Challenge by Erin participants!

Have you been busy reading now that 2016 is behind us and we are firmly established in the Year of the Rooster? I hope so!

As for me, it’s time to update my reading progress for Book Challenge by Erin 2017. Here’s what I read so far with my comments:

5 points: Freebie – Read a book that is at least 200 pages.

Frannie and Tru by Karen Hattrup

Loved the beginning of this YA contemporary about an outcast teen who expands her horizons when an unpredictable cousin comes for the summer. The middle felt a bit repetitive, but the ending finished up nicely. Family dynamics were also explored in this novel (again, more in the beginning), but for a stronger novel in that vein, I recommend I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandie Nelson.

10 points: Read a book that starts with the letter “W”.

When We Were Sisters by Emilie Richards

I really enjoyed this tale of two foster sisters who remained devoted to each other. I’m a big fan of the idea that blood is not what makes a family, and this book highlights that notion. Two drawbacks to this book. One: there were three point of view characters–the two sisters and a husband. I really wanted to stay with the sisters, and I think the husband’s viewpoint could have been portrayed through them. The other–the sisters’ voices were not distinct enough so that I had to re-check the chapter heading to see who was narrating. The sign of an excellent voice author is that readers can differentiate characters based on the characters’ speech and mannerisms. Two novels that do this very well are The Poisonwood Bible by Kingsolver and The God of Small Things by Roy. Still, I did really enjoy When We Were Sisters and stayed up late (always the sign of a compelling read) to finish it.

20 points: Read a book with a homonym in the title.

The Burning Air by Erin Kelly

This is a story of a family in disarray. The matriarch, Lydia, has just died and leaves behind a diary detailing a mistake she has kept secret for years. As secrets often do, this one has created devastating ripples that will be felt by every member of the family and by one obsessed seeker of revenge. I loved the opening of this novel as well as the author’s writing. One third of the way in, however, the author changed narrators, and I felt bogged down with dark revenge motives for another third (think Gone Girl excesses). Fortunately, the last third completely re-engaged me, and I really liked how it ended. And good endings are so hard to pull off! Having finished reading, I am now happy to recommend this book.

30 points: Read a “Rory Gilmore” book.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

This is a brilliant post-apocalyptic novel in which the lone protagonist Snowman forages for canned goods and hunts for medical supplies in burned out buildings. I probably shouldn’t have started reading this in January during the presidential inauguration. I’m afraid that match-up only added to my unease about the future. The good thing about books is that there’s always another one to change your mood or outlook. There are several sequels to this novel, but I’m not sure when or if I’ll read them. I really liked the ending of Oryx and Crake, so I just might leave it there.

The above four books are what I’ve finished so far. I’m currently reading A Grown-up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson (three-fourths finished) and The Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen (just started).

What do you think? Have you read any of these? Don’t forget…there’s always time to enter the Book Challenge by Erin. Just click here to get started and join the fun!

 

 

Reading Orwell in Oakland

“Ignorance is strength”~George Orwell, 1984

This week we heard the phrase Alternative Facts issue from Kellyanne Conway’s lips. Alternative Facts, as defined by Kellyanne, include Donald’s erroneous claims that a million and a half people attended his inauguration, that his was the most watched ceremony ever, that three to five million illegal immigrants robbed him of the popular vote, that those who walked in the Women’s March hadn’t voted.

I listened to Kellyanne and laughed. Aloud. Like many others, I immediately thought of the term Doublethink from the dystopian work 1984 by George Orwell. Doublethink (or its modern equivalent Alternative Facts) is holding “two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” So, I guess that means we’re expected to simultaneously gaze at the photos of sparse crowds where Obama supporters stood eight years ago, and still believe Trump’s inauguration was the most attended. Ever.

Days after Kellyanne’s pronouncement, Orwell’s novel 1984 shot up the bestseller list to number 1.

Other Alternative Facts to surface this week: Global warming is a natural occurrence. Witness the White House take-down of the EPA’s climate change page and its gag order directive to employees. As O’Brien says to Winston towards the end of 1984, “When we are omnipotent, we shall have no more need of science.”

Chilling.

Here’s another Alternative Fact: withhold contraceptives from poor countries in Africa and Latin America and thereby prevent abortions. Um, this will actually increase abortions (these are the facts from the Bush era, nothing alternative about them) as well as reduce access to cancer screenings and Zika virus prevention. In his 1946 essay “In Front of Your Nose,” Orwell warns, “We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue.” In that vein, Nicholas Kristoff from the New York Times wonders whether we should use the word “lie” to describe Trumpisms. In his article “President Trump’s War on Women Begins,” Kristoff muses that “Trump may actually believe his absurd falsehoods.”

It’s no wonder we turn to Orwell. In addition to 1984, I would argue that Animal Farm is as valuable a read. 1984 depicts the bleak, unrelenting, insidious non-existence of a society in which free speech and free thought have been quashed. Animal Farm provides insight into how we get to 1984 (with perhaps some hints to avoid such a fate).

Thanks to Orwell’s novels and essays, we are forewarned. We can still act and read, and, yes…think. Trump and his Comrades are not yet omnipotent. In fact, Science Magazine reports that even before the White House ordered the removal of scientific knowledge from the EPA website, climate scientists engaged in “guerrilla archiving” and secretly backed up all the data. Perhaps this is what led the White House to scrub those plans. The EPA page remains in place for now.

Remember, as Orwell says, “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”

I just hope Reading Orwell in Oakland does not one day, say in the next four years, become as subversive as Reading Lolita in Tehran.

What say you, readers? Are you resisting? If so, how? So far, my resistance plans include marching when possible and donating to two organizations serving those adversely affected by the Trump presidency–Planned Parenthood Global and Southern Poverty Law Center.

Making bandages

My mother always said I was born one hundred years too late.

She could be right. I make quilts the same way my grandmother made them a hundred years ago—by hand. I used cloth diapers (albeit with a diaper service) when my daughters were little, and I use cloth napkins every day.

When I buy milk, I choose glass bottles. (I’m not usually allowed to buy milk.) I line-dry my laundry in the sun. I sleep with white cotton sheets—old, soft ones I buy each March at the White Elephant Sale.

And on January 1st of this new year, I found myself making bandages. Even for me, that’s a step backward in time.

One of my old white sheets was worn so smooth, it began to tear in multiple places. I’d turn over and hear a rip where my arm pierced the fabric. An elbow there, and R-I-P! All through the night, I snuggled under my quilts and heard more fabric splitting. A sad end to the softest sheet ever.

So I did what my grandmother did a hundred years ago. I washed and sun-dried the sheet, tore it into strips and wound the strips into long bandage rolls, which I stored in the medicine cupboard. You should always have bandages on hand, right? Especially true in my grandparents’ Idaho farming community comprised of 500 residents. The big city, Idaho Falls, was about an hour away via Model T.

Back then, you had to be self-sufficient, ready for anything. The question is: Why did I feel that same need on January 1, 2017?

The fact is, several disturbing things all sort of came together when the new year dawned and found me winding bandage strips. Mostly, I’m feeling unsettled and—I’ll admit it—a little scared.

I’m scared about the new U.S. president, He Who Shall Remain Nameless, poised to take office in a few weeks. Is he a buffoon or a sociopath? I recently read The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, Ph.D. The major traits of the sociopath that Stout outlines are: deceitfulness, irritability, aggressiveness, remorselessness. What if He Who Shall Remain Nameless, in a fit of pique, pushes the Button That Should Never Be Pushed?

Another senseless, cowardly, brutal terrorist attack marked the beginning of the year 2017 in Istanbul, killing dozens.

Then, I read on this day that Kim Jung Un plans to tease Trump by testing an intercontinental ballistic missile in 2017 capable of reaching the West Coast (where I live). Speaking of the West Coast, we’re overdue for a great quake à la 1906. That thought alone can keep you up at night.

And I spent a good part of the day reading the brilliant post-apocalyptic novel Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood in which the lone protagonist Snowman forages for canned goods and hunts for medical supplies in burned out buildings.

You can bet Margaret Atwood’s character would have liked all those clean, soft bandages safely stashed in my cupboard.

I’m thinking there’s a metaphor lurking somewhere in here that compelled my bandage making. Like…I don’t know…I’m feeling wounded? Feeling in need of the childhood protection a band-aid and a kiss-to-make-it-better can provide? And I think this is all symbolic of my desire to fix (translation: bandage) the world ills and the screaming polarities. Oh, if I had my wish, these would be magic bandages!

In future, perhaps post-apocalyptic literature is not my best reading choice to ring in New Year’s Day.

_______________________________

PostScript

It has now been two days since I wrote the above, and while I can’t say I have returned to my usual sanguine self, I am feeling slightly less hopeless.  Who was it said “Time heals all wounds”? My bandage-making frenzy has passed. Perhaps the process itself provided a kind of healing. To you, I send this hope of healing. All you need is a soft old sheet.

How about you? Are you feeling gloomy or hopeful at the beginning of this New Year? Please share with me.

 

Book Challenge by Erin January 2017

Books! Beautiful books!

It’s Book Challenge by Erin time again!

I’m excited about the categories and really jazzed about my choices this time! I even found a couple of books for the challenge round (assuming I make it). Ha! Last time I came really close to completing the challenge round–just off by two books, I think.

5 points: Freebie – Read a book that is at least 200 pages.

Frannie and True by Karen Hattrup

10 points: Read a book that starts with the letter “W”.

When We Were Sisters by Emilie Richards

10 points: Read a book with six words in the title.

The Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

15 points: Read a book that has a (mostly) green cover.

A Grown-up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson

20 points: Read a book with a homonym in the title.

The Burning Air by Erin Kelly

[I’m a purist when it comes to homonyms. I cotton (see what I did there?) to the primary definition of homonym–sound and spelling the same; meaning different. So…Air = atmosphere + personal bearing]

20 points: Read a book by your favorite author.

The River King by Alice Hoffman

[This was hard as I have many favorite authors. I chose among Alice Hoffman, Kate Atkinson, and Laura Lippman.]

25 points: Read a book set in the city/town/state/territory/county/province where you live.

The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

30 points: Read a “Rory Gilmore” book.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

[I loved looking at the Rory Gilmore titles and was even actually a little bit impressed with myself about how many I had read.]

30 points: Read a book from a genre that you’ve never read (or rarely read.)

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson

[I almost never read SciFi though there have been a few in this genre I’ve loved like Love Minus Eighty. I’m a little worried about this choice since it’s 500+ pages]

35 points: Read a book with time travel.

Time and Again by Jack Finney

So, there you have my selections. What do you think? Have you read any of these? Don’t forget…there’s still time to enter Erin’s Reading Challenge. Just click here to get started and join the fun!

photo credit: Dimitris Graffin  via photopin