Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Forgotten Terrorist

In 2004, the following books were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction:  Evidence of Things Unseen by Marianne Wiggins; The Known World by Edward P. Jones; and American Woman by Susan Choi.  Pop quiz:  Which book won?  Answer:  The Known World by Edward P. Jones.  But have you ever heard of it?  2004 must have been a strange year in fiction.  I have read the winners from 1999 through 2003, and then again for five of the years after 2004, but I don't recall anyone I know even talking about any of the 2004 finalists.  I had never heard of any of them myself, until I read My Education by Susan Choi last year, and was impressed to read that she had been nominated for the prize for her earlier novel.

American Woman is a fictionalized version of Patty Hearst's time in hiding with the members of the Symbionese Liberation Army.  In case you were born after 1974,  Hearst was kidnapped by the SLA.  The group made certain strange demands from Hearst's very wealthy family, but was never satisfied with their responses.  After some time, the group robbed a bank, and Patty appeared to be an active participant in he heist, rather than a hostage.  A shootout with the SLA followed, with only two members and Hearst surviving.  This is where the story in American Woman begins.

While the name "Patty Hearst" was familiar to me, I was young enough when the true story unfolded that I didn't remember all of the details.  Choi stayed very close to the truth in her telling, but changed the names and invented dialogue.  Patty, who wanted to be called "Tania" in real life is called "Pauline" in the book.  A fact that I never knew was one of the people in hiding with Patty was a Japanese American woman named Wendy Yoshimura.  In the book, Wendy is named Jenny Shimada, and the story is told from her perspective.  If  you don't already know about Wendy, and if you even might read American Woman, don't click on the link above until after reading the book, so the ending won't be spoiled for you.

Wendy/Jenny was completely overlooked by the press at the time.  She was born during World War II, while her Japanese parents were living in an internment camp within the US.  Growing up, Jenny's father faced hard times, not feeling like he had a place in either the US or Japan.  As a teenager, Jenny lived in California, and found friends who were discontent with the government and wanted to make a statement.  Jenny joined their protests, and soon found herself in over her head.  As Jenny's time with Pauline came to a close, Asian Americans came to her aid in a way that Jenny neither expected nor felt that she deserved.  Those Asian Americans, and not just Japanese Americans, did everything within their power to help Wendy in real life.  Choi, who Wikipedia says is half Korean, is another Asian American keeping us from forgetting Wendy Yoshimura's name.

The story in American Woman is a little slow.  This only makes sense, as Jenny and Pauline are supposed to be in hiding and keeping a low profile.  Choi explores the question that the American public struggled with during the Patty Hearst trial:  Was Patty/Pauline a hostage or a willing participant?  If she was a willing participant, why was that, and does she deserve to be punished for her role?  Choi doesn't pick sides in Patty's story, but she is clearly a strong supporter of Wendy.

American Woman was a NYT Notable in 2003.  It is also another book toward the I Love Library Books Challenge.  In case I got you thinking about the Pulitzer Prize, this year's winner in fiction was announced earlier this month.  It is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, which I can't wait to read.

Next Up:  The Titans by John Jakes

Still Listening To:  The Cuckoo's Calling by "Robert Galbraith"

Monday, April 21, 2014

Happily Ever After

According to Jeffrey Eugenides' character, Madeleine Hanna, "the marriage plot" began with Jane Austen, and is a story involving  courting rituals, proposals and misunderstandings, and ultimately ending in marriage.  The plot then progressed through Henry James and Leo Tolstoy, to the point where the marriage is not a happy ending, but only the beginning of a relationship where the woman is hopelessly trapped.  By the beginning of the twentieth century, the marriage plot had died out.  In 2011, Eugenides brought it back, with a modern twist.

The Marriage Plot, as written by Eugenides, is set in the early 1980s on a college campus, and involving three key characters who are about to graduate.  The first is Madeleine, who is writing her thesis on the marriage plot, and hopes to become "a Victorianist." Madeleine romantically uses fictional characters as her role models, starting first with Ludwig Bemelmans' character with whom she shares a name.  Madeleine is in awe of Leonard, who grew up in Oregon, but now attends Brown with Maddy, and is very popular with the ladies.  Mitchell is another Brown student, who happens to be in love with Maddy, and wants to pursue a study of divinity.  Like Eugenides, Mitchell comes from Grosse Pointe, MI.  Eugenides' brings the marriage plot into the semi-modern day by playing the love triangle out in an era where women had opportunities to establish careers, live as successful single women, and when need be, divorce without social stigma.

Another twentieth century aspect of The Marriage Plot is that Leonard has been diagnosed with manic depression.  Maddy fell in love with him during a manic period, but he didn't realize his love for her until the depression took hold.  While all of Maddy's friends and family members warn her against trying to save Leonard, Maddy just can't help trying to rescue him from his illness.  Eugenides does a great job of showing the manic depression through its highs and lows, and the reader can sympathize with both Maddy and Leonard, and understand the challenges that their relationship will face.

It was a bit of a cop out for Eudenides to set his book about love after the women's movement in the eighties, even though it was published in 2011.  In the intervening years between the eighties and now, I would like to think that relationships and opportunities for women have changed.  On the other hand, maybe he is deliberately leaving the door open for him or another author to write the twenty-first century marriage plot. 

The Marriage Plot was a NYT Notable for 2011.  I'm counting this book for the Rewind, Audiobook, and I Love Library Books challenges.

Next up on CD:  The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

Still Reading:  American Woman by Susan Choi

Saturday, April 19, 2014

It's Literally a Cookbook

One day, not too long ago, I found myself in the unusual position of  being in my library, and not having anywhere that I had to hurry off to go.  I had time to browse the aisles, instead of just picking up my books from the hold shelf - something that I hadn't done in a long time.  And what to my wondering eyes should appear, but The Book Club Cookbook by Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp.  I checked it out, thinking that it couldn't possibly be what I hoped it was.  

Gelman and Krupp have compiled a book of recipes from best selling books.  Some of the recipes are for foods referenced in the books, some are recipes that Gelman and Krupp think the characters would make, and some are recipes given by the author or his or her family members.  Additionally, with each recipe, there is a summary of the book, and an interview with a book group that discussed the book.  The book groups usually mention what they served when the book was discussed, and how their meetings work. 

I had no idea that there were so many types of book groups!  Most of them have great ideas.  Some host formal dinners.  Some choose appropriate restaurants.  Some only read books set in other countries.  Some only read Pulitzer winners.  Some pick a book once a year that they think their husbands and partners would also want to read, and invite them.  Some (gasp!) actually have men in the groups, and are either couple groups, or just book groups where men are there too.

Before the night was through, I was online trying to order The Book Club Cookbook from Amazon.  Yes, it was a little old, but still, I wanted it.  Then it got even better!  The book that I checked out from my library was the first edition, from 2004.  Amazon had a new edition, from 2012, which included books that were released after the first edition was printed.  The Amazon review dated March 13, 2012 includes a complete list of all the recipes added to the new version, and all the recipes that were in the first edition, but were not included in the 2012 book. 

Here are the recipes that are included in the 2012 cookbook, for books that The Typical Book Group has read:
There are a couple of books that I can think of where food was essential to the story.  For instance, I HATED the ending of The Dive From Clausen's Pier by Ann Packer so much that I toyed with the idea of writing a book consisting only of alternate endings that would have been better.  But, despite my strong feelings, I still remember Carrie baking cherry pie, and how much all of her friends clamoured for it.  Now I have the recipe for the pie, if not for a better ending.   In Empire Falls by Richard Russo, the brother, David, moves back to town, and has ideas about how to attract a more upscale clientele by offering "good, cheap, ethnic food" in the honest feeling diner.  Gelman and Krupp provide a recipe for shrimp flautas, which David created as a special. 

There are lots of other recipes tying in with books that I have reviewed here, including Cocoa-Cinnamon Babka from The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon, Mojitos and Mango, Jicama and Corn Salad from Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Jennifer Egan's Oatmeal Fudge Refrigerator Cookies from Jennifer Egan, the author of A Visit from the Goon Squad.  All told, there are recipes from 100 books, in this 486 page collection.  And now, what's your excuse?  Go Get It And Read.

Still Reading:  American Woman by Susan Choi

Still Listening to:  The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Typical Book Group Report - 19

Last night The Typical Book Group discussed The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd.  There were 8 of us there, and all of us really liked the book.  We talked a lot about how it compared with other slavery stories, like "Twelve Years a Slave" and Charleston by Alexandra Ripley.  A couple people mentioned how the character of Charlotte reminded them of Oprah Winfrey's character in "The Color Purple". 

All of us were surprised that Sarah and Nina Grimke were real people.  This is a book where it might make sense to read the Afterward first, so that you can know who the characters are when they appear. 

It was hard for us to criticize the choices that the characters made, knowing that the story was based on fact. For instance, we didn't understand why Sarah gave Handful back to Sarah's mother, but apparently, she did.  We also wondered if there was any significance to the number 1884, such as it being a year of historical significance for blacks, but we decided it must just have been the lottery number that Denmark Vesey actually chose. 

Next month we'll discuss Cukoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling).

Still Reading:  American Woman by Susan Choi

Still Listening to:  The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Slowly Learning

Who's the Slow Learner:  A Chronicle of Inclusion and Exclusion is Sandra Assimotos McElwee's story of her son, Sean's progress from pre-k through twelfth grade.  Sean has Down Syndrome, and it was important to McElwee that his opportunities for an educational experience not be limited by a diagnosis.  As McElwee explains, Who's the Slow Learner is not a "how to" book, but a book about how she and her family did it.

McElwee lives in California, and her district's practice was to put all children with Down Syndrome into special classrooms.  McElwee wanted Sean to be fully included with his age appropriate classmates, and was very successful through 6th grade.  Once Sean hit 7th grade, his experience changed, not because of the fabled mean middle school kids, but because of adult bullies who were slow to learn just what Sean was capable of achieving.  My district is struggling with the issue of inclusion now as well, with some parents wanting their children to be fully included, and others preferring a more segregated setting.  Every child is different, and every district is different,  but the lessons that McElwee learned could be meaningful anywhere.

Each chapter covers a grade for Sean, and begins with his IEP (Individualized Education Plan) goals for that year.  Because the goals are supposed to tailored for each child, Sean's goals may provide some ideas for parents and districts, but are not something that can be cut and pasted into another child's IEP.  McElwee also provides verbatim copies of letters to and from district staff members, which were very fact specific, but provide good examples of how to effectively communicate your point, even if you are furious.  The rest of each chapter talks about Sean's experiences during that year. 

McElwee is Sean's biggest advocate, and she works hard to be sure that Sean is included in extracurricular activities as well as the classroom.  Sean is in plays, participates in choir, takes dance lessons, attends school dances, runs for student office, and manages the baseball team, all during his high school years.  When he can't participate in school activities for one reason or another, McElwee finds a group outside of school where he can be involved.  He even finds time to date a tv star, Becky from Glee.  This is California, remember.

The parent support group that I am involved with (www.FriendsofDifferentLearners.org) does a lot of the things that McElwee recommends, like having a buddy program, showing our teachers our appreciation, and working together with other parents of different learners.  I agree with McElwee that it is important for parents of different learners to be sure that the district knows them, and that they be involved with activities that parents of typical students are, such as the PTA.  One idea that I liked that McElwee suggested was a "Cool Club" for teenage different learners and those in their early 20s.  McElwee got 15 families together, and divided up the calendar.  Each family was in charge of coordinating an activity for the kids, for one weekend night, three times a year.  This could be mini golf, movies, a picnic, or whatever.  That way the kids always had something to do each weekend, like their typical peers. 

Although I don't have a child with Down Syndrome, I could still relate to McElwee's story.  Who's the Slow Learner is a must read for parents of children with Down Syndrome who are struggling with inclusion, and a should read for parents of children with autism or cognitive impairments who are facing the same challenges. 

Another idea for parents of different learners is to tackle this summer's reading list in audio form.   SYNC is a FREE summer program that gives away 2 audiobook downloads each week for the summer starting May 15 and ending August 14. SYNC audiobook titles are given away in pairs--a Young Adult title is paired with a related Classic or required Summer Reading title.  Check out the complete title list, including James Patterson's CONFESSIONS OF A MURDER SUSPECT and its pair partner, Agatha Christie's THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE.  Visit www.audiobooksync.com to sign up for title alerts by email.

I received a free copy of Who's the Slow Learner from McElwee, and agreed to review it.  Other than that, no promises were made, and no payments were received.

Next Up:  American Woman by Susan Choi

Still Listening To:  The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Handful of History

Charleston, in the early 1800s, was not a great place to live if you were a slave, or a slave owner's daughter with a conscience.  The story of The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, begins with said slave owner's daughter, Sarah, being given the gift of her very own slave, Hetty, for her 11th birthday.  Sarah immediately objects, but a slave is not the type of item that is easy to return.  Hetty was born to Sarah's family's household, and was named "Handful" by her mother, Charlotte, who is also a slave working for the family.

Sarah and Handful have a relationship that is different from Sarah's parents' relationships with their slaves.  While not treating Handful as an equal, Sarah is able to see her as a person.  In an instant that she knows she will come to regret, Sarah promises Charlotte that she will do whatever she can to help Handful become free.

In the beginning, the conditions for slaves in Sarah's family were not the worst imaginable, although the occasional misbehaving slave was whipped, and Handful was never allowed to meet her father because Charlotte was separated from him.  Sarah's father is a respected judge, and he seems sympathetic to Sarah's misgivings about slave ownership.  However, as the story continues, Sarah's family's fortunes take a turn for the worse, and life for the slaves becomes more brutal.

In protest of slavery, Sarah moves north and becomes a Quaker.  The Quakers were opposed to slavery.  At first this protest seems a little lame, as Sarah is not actually doing anything to end slavery or improve Handful's situation.  Soon, Sarah's sister, Nina, moves to Philadelphia to be with her, and together the two find their voices and fight for their cause.

While my summary might sound heavy, The Invention of Wings is a page turner.  Normally I read before I go to bed to relax myself, but this book got my adrenaline pumping and made it hard to sleep.  Anyone who liked The Help by Kathryn Stockett will like this book too.  However, where The Help was famously said to be purely fiction (Stockett was sued by her brother's maid who claimed she was the basis of the book), Wings is based on fact. 

Only because I have been helping my son study for this U.S. History exams this year, some of the characters' names were recognizable to me.  Charlotte has a child with Denmark Vesey, a man who was accused of trying to start a slave revolt.  Sarah lives for a time with Lucretia Mott, a famous abolitionist.  Sarah and Nina work with Theodore Weld, who also fought against slavery.  And I haven't told you Sarah and Nina's last name.  It's Grimke.  Sarah and Angelina Grimke were said to be the most famous and infamous women of the 1830s, fighting for equality for slaves and for women. 

The Invention of Wings is sure to be one of the best sellers of 2014.  It is an Oprah Book Club book, and I am reading it for my book group as well.  I was asked to review it in December, but foolishly, I passed.  Nevertheless, Annie Harris from Viking Penguin would never let me down, and she sent me this link to a book group kit that includes discussion points, and even a few recipes.  She also wanted me to remind you that Sue Monk Kidd will be discussing Wings with Oprah on April 13 at 11:00 am, on OWN.

Next Up:  Who's the Slow Learner:  A Chronicle of Inclusion and Exclusion by Sandra Assimotos McElwee

Still Listening to:  The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Neighborhood Book Group Report - 1

http://sonotarunner.blogspot.com/2014/03/another-hole-in-my-head.htmlThe Neighborhood Book Group got together last night to discuss Me Before You by Jojo Moyes.  Once again, this group was businesslike!  Although we have all been neighbors for sometime, there is still a little awkwardness when we get together in one room to talk about our opinions.  It is so much easier just to wave when I walk by with my golden retriever pulling me along than to sit and talk about something more substantial.  Hopefully, with more time, the ice will break.

It's been a while since I talked about Me Before You, so here is the long story short.  Louisa is a young woman who is out of work, living with her parents, and dating her longtime boyfriend, Patrick.  She applies for a care giving position that she is sure she is not qualified for, and is shocked to get hired.  She will be caring for Will, who was a wealthy young professional until a motorcycle accident left him paralyzed.  Will has decided that life in a wheelchair is not worth living, and his mother has hired Louisa to help persuade him otherwise, without exactly telling Louisa that this is her expectation.

We found that there was a lot to like about Me Before You.  There were some surprise favorite characters, including the true caregiver, Nathan, and the wedding guest who didn't pity Will but instead treated him as a human, Mary.  We weren't exactly sure who would play Nathan in the movie, but it was suggested that he should look like the new Detroit Tigers' Manager, Brad Ausmus, and that we should all watch more baseball.  Here's a for instance: 

 OK, so maybe the ice is melting a little.
We also talked about the title.  There were a few ways of interpreting it.  One way was that Louisa was always letting other people put their needs before hers.  Her family, he boyfriend, and Will all put their needs first, and she allowed them to walk all over her.  The title might be recognizing the new Louisa in the end, where she is finally acknowledging her own needs.  The interpretation that I liked better though, was as a way of explaining who the characters were before they met.  Like, "This is who I was before you knew me."  Me before you.  Throughout the story both Will and Louisa  tell each other about who they were as opposed to who they are in the moment when they are speaking.  Will's "big life" has been reduced to a small suite of rooms.  Louisa's small life is pushing its limits just a bit, and she likes it.
Next time we meet we will be discussing Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen.  We are a little fuzzy on the next meeting date though, so I'm not starting that one until I'm sure I can make the meeting.
Still Reading:  The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
Still Listening to:  The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...