Book Report: June Round-Up

June 30, 2022

Big Books.

Books Read Again.

A Book about Books and Bookstores

Books with Spies and Intrigue

New Books, Old Books

That about summarizes my reading this month, but perhaps you want details.

Big Books

I read three books over 500 pages and don’t regret one minute immersed in all those pages.

  • The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois by Honoree Fannonne Jeffers. The main character Ailey spends summers in a small Georgia town where her mother’s family lived in bondage as slaves. The book explores the complicated history of that family and leads us through the generations, going back and forth in time. As readers we see the results of the trauma, oppression, and cruelty, as well as the resiliency and passion for life. In the middle of the book I wearied of the male dominant-female abused sex scenes, but was glad I didn’t give up reading the book, for there is much to love in these characters and their lives.
  • The Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead. A terrific summer read, which I wrote about in an earlier post this month. https://livingonlifeslabyrinth.com/2022/06/09/book-report-great-circle-by-maggie-shipstead/
  • The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher. Another terrific summer read, a re-read in my case. I wonder if I read this in the summer the first time around. The title refers to a painting, and each chapter focuses on a specific character, although the main character Penelope, who is the daughter of the painter and a figure in the painting, is never far away. You will love some characters and others, not so much!

Books Read Again

Along with The Shell Seekers, I re-read The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields, which is well-worth reading again or for the first time, if you have not yet read it. The book is divided into sections: Birth, Childhood, Marriage, Love, Motherhood, Work, Sorrow, Ease, Illness and Decline, Death. A full and complete life. Daisy Goodwin Flett’s mother, Mercy Stone was raised in an orphanage, the Stonewall Orphan Home, and her father was a stone cutter. Thus the title. The book is Daisy’s witness to herself –there is a reference to her “decoding” her life. Gorgeous writing that is at once lush and understated.

A Book About Books and Bookstores

In Praise of Good Bookstores by Jeff Deutsch. At times obscure and too esoteric for summer reading. Nevertheless, I enjoyed being reminded of the gift of browsing good bookstores. The author says there are many types of browsers, including the idler who just wants to while away the hours, the flaneur who meanders through the stacks, observing, loitering, shuffling; the general who sees the stacks as a thing to be conquered; and the pilgrim, who seeks wisdom. Deutsch worked at the famous Seminary Co-op Bookstore in Chicago, which unfortunately no longer exists, but I am grateful I visited it a couple times and left its underground warren of rooms with piles of books for my personal library of spirituality and theology books.

Books With Spies and Intrigue

The Expats and The Paris Diversion by Chris Pavone. This author has written LOTS of books, including a brand new one, Two Nights in Lisbon. The Paris Diversion is a sequel to The Expats. At times I didn’t quite follow the plot and at times I didn’t care for the main characters, a husband and wife, both full of secrets. However, I loved the twists and turns–and being in Luxembourg and Paris.

New Books, Old Books.

I’ve already mentioned three of the new books I read this month (The Great Circle–2021; The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois–2021, and In Praise of Good Bookstores–2022). The fourth new book is nonfiction, Bitter Sweet, How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole by Susan Cain. Cain’s earlier book, Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (2012) is on my personal Great Books List; a book that made a difference in how I view myself and my relationship to the world. This book isn’t on that same level, but I identified with much of what she wrote. On her Bittersweet quiz, I scored 8. Above 5.7 means I am a “true connoisseur of the place where light and dark meet.” The book includes excellent chapters on grief and inherited pain.

The Shell Seekers was published in 1987 and The Stone Diaries in 1994. I also read Solar Storms, a novel, by Linda Hogan published in 1995 and Without a Map, a memoir, by Meredith Hall published in 2007. Reading Solar Storms, I felt totally immersed in Native American spirituality. Angel has been separated from her mother, who hurt her physically and emotionally, but she sets out to reconnect. The book is rich in transformation and reconciliation and also the urgency of saving the traditional native way of life. I read a used copy, and I loved seeing what the previous owner had marked as meaningful.

Meredith Hall wrote the luminous novel Beneficence, which I wrote about in a May post. https://livingonlifeslabyrinth.com/2022/05/19/book-report-beneficence-by-meredith-hall-2020/ Without a Map is her stunning memoir of a life that could easily have ended in tragedy or at the very least bitterness, but instead the author is a woman of great compassion and forgiveness. When she was pregnant at age 16 in the 1960’s, she was expelled from school, totally rejected by her parents, and the baby was adopted without her seeing him. Somehow she survived, but life remained challenging for many years. This book helps me understand the insight and compassion she has for her characters in Beneficence.

So that does it for this month: 10 books for summer days.

An Invitation

What did you read this month? I would love to know.

Book Report: On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed and My Thoughts About Retirement Reading

NOTE: I am going to take a brief break from the blog. My plan is to begin posting again the week of May 9.

First, the weekly book report: On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed.

Part memoir, part history, part psychoanalysis of Texas, this slim volume enlightens the movement to make June 19, Juneteenth, a national holiday. On June 19th, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, the end of legalized slavery was announced–two years after The Emancipation Proclamation and two months after Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant.

Gordon-Reed grew up in Texas and in fact, she was the first Black child to attend an all- white school in her hometown, Conroe, Texas. Her story is compelling and offered me several new perspectives. For example, the Black high school near her home was Booker T. Washington High School, usually referred to in the community as “Booker T,” but when people outside the community called it Washington High School and assumed it was named for “George”

Another new thought: Gordon-Reed writes about the effect of integration on Black teachers. “The children were to be integrated, not the teaching staff…People who had been figures of authority were put in charge of dispensing books and doing other administrative tasks that took them away from contact with Black students, depriving those students of daily role models.” p. 51. Think of the longterm effects of that practice.

My family lived in Texas for two years, when I was in junior high school. My father was transferred there from New York and then transferred back to New York. During our brief time there I acquired a Texas accent and learned to address my teachers as “Sir” and “Ma’am”–both habits I lost quickly when we returned to Long Island. What I didn’t acquire was much real knowledge about Texas. I learned about the six flags that flew over Texas and about the Alamo and all the reasons Texas was great. I didn’t learn anything about the history of slavery in Texas.

When slavery in Texas was mentioned, it was presented as an unfortunate event that was to be acknowledged but quickly passed over. There was no sense of the institution’s centrality. Slavery was done. There was no point in dwelling on the past. Texas was all about the future, about what came next–the next cattle drive, the next oil well. the next space flight directed by NASA’s Mission Control in Houston.

pp. 27-28

In steps the historian. And we continue to learn and to gain insight about the implications of the past and what needs to happen now.

Now for Thoughts about Reading and Retirement.

After reading On Juneteenth, which I got at the library, I realized I have yet to read Gordon-Reed’s Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning book The Hemingses of Monticello, An American Family (2008). Don’t scold me. Periodically, I take the book from the shelf of other miscellaneous, yet to be read nonfiction books and ask myself if this is the time. It’s a BIG BOOK, and I know when I read it, I will want to focus and fully immerse myself in it.

It’s the kind of book I think I will want to read when I retire, but I’m not planning to retire anytime soon.

Now here’s a confession. Sometimes when many around me tell me I must read a certain book OR when I hear or read too many reviews about a book, I lose interest in reading the book myself. Because of that, I know I have missed reading many books I would have loved. But it is not too late. There is always retirement whenever that happens or whenever the time is right for that specific book.

In the meantime I daydream about other books on my shelves I want to re-read or read for the first time.

An Invitation:

What books do you daydream about reading? What books did you miss when they were first published but interest you now? I would love to know.

Book Report: January Round-Up

January has been a cold month here in Minnesota, but I have been content to stay inside and read.

Such good books. My intention was to select one or two favorite fiction titles and one or two nonfiction titles, but I could not decide which books not to mention.

Fiction

  • The Sentence by Louise Erdrich. I love books set in a bookstore, and any book written by Erdrich calls to me, so this was a winning combination. Erdrich’s actual bookstore in Minneapolis, Birchbark Books, is one of my favorites and the fictional representation of the store is just as appealing. The basic plot is that one of the employees is haunted by a customer who has died, but that is far too simplistic a description. The book is set during the pandemic and also refers to the murder of George Floyd and the days following that. I am so grateful for Erdrich’s ongoing elucidation of indigenous history, culture, and current realities.
  • Celine by Peter Heller. I read his more recent book The River and liked it, but didn’t love it. However, a favorite bookseller recommended this book to me, and the main character, a 68 year-old woman who is a private investigator, is intriguing. At first I was confused by lots of names and places and wasn’t sure where the focus was going to be, but Celine, who comes from an “old” family, wears Armani scarves when she tracks her prey, uses guns comfortably, and is married to Peter, a “Mainer” who doesn’t drive, kept me turning the pages. I hope Heller writes another book about these two. The story itself–searching for a young woman’s father who supposedly was killed by a bear in Yellowstone–is well done, too.
  • Songbirds by Christy Lefteri. Set in current times in Cyprus, where a maid, originally from Sri Lanka disappears. She has fallen in love with a man who poaches song birds and sells them to restaurants as forbidden and exotic treats. That’s disturbing enough, as it is, but even more so is the indentured servant conditions of the maids and that the main character, Nisha, is not the only one.
  • Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout. I loved this book. William and Lucy Barton were once married and had two daughters, now grown. Lucy’s second husband has died and William’s current wife leaves him. William asks Lucy to help him confront a missing piece of his life story. Lucy, by the way, is a successful writer, but feels invisible and inadequate. Ah, the mysteries of marriage and relationships and as Strout (Lucy) says, “how we lived our lives on top of this.” After reading this book, I re-read the earlier one My Name is Lucy Barton and discovered I liked it much more the second time around.
  • The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan. Think The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Not as chilling, perhaps, at least not on the surface, but…. Frida, a divorced mom with a young child, has a “bad day” and makes a mistake for which she is sentenced to a training school for mothers. There is a right way and a wrong way. One way. In the school she is assigned to a robotic doll to practice the right way. Ripe for a movie, I am guessing.
  • The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman. Set in a retirement community in the UK, a “gang” of residents meet to solve unsolved murders and, of course, get involved in a real murder (or more than one). Interesting characters with interesting backgrounds (Elizabeth was former secret service), and I am eager to read the next book in the series. I assume there will be more after #2.
  • The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World by Laura Imai Messina. This is my “wild card” of the month–a book I just happened upon. I knew nothing about it, but the summary sounded intriguing, and it was one of those books that just felt right. The plot is based on the true story of a tsunami in Japan in 2011. People who have lost loved ones come to talk to them in a disconnected phone booth at the site of the tsunami. Two of those are Yui, whose daughter and mother died, and Takeshi whose wife died. Such a beautiful story of the rhythms of grief and re-entry into life and love.
  • Mrs March by Virginian Feito. This is the least favorite novel I read this month, but I finished it. (I discarded a few others along the way.) Mrs March is married to a successful novelist, and she has many emotional problems. I got tired of the grinding perspective of her paranoia, but still there was some nice writing.

Nonfiction

  • The Inner Work of Age, Shifting from Role to Soul by Connie Zweig. I read this book slowly during my morning meditation time. Zweig’s main message is to become an Elder, which means doing the necessary inner soul work, becoming who we were created to be and embracing the hidden spiritual gifts of age. She doesn’t ignore the challenges; for example, life-changing illness, but instead urges each of us to become aware of our own shadow–the obstacle(s) that prevent our own authenticity. So much here. I added many quotes in my journal and used many of the reflection questions at the end of each chapter. This is a book to move us beyond being elderly and instead, to live our elderhood with awareness.
  • Wife/Daughter/Self, A Memoir in Essays by Beth Kephart. I have loved Kephart’s books on writing and this book gave me insight into who she is as writer and teacher, but much more beyond that. Each section was divided into snatches, short pieces, but the book didn’t feel disconnected. I did think, however, that the section on “wife” was the strongest. The book made me think about how roles change or even end, but the self remains.
  • In the Country of Women by Susan Straight. Straight is a white woman who was married to a black man from the neighborhood where she grew up. They had three daughters and even after they divorced they remained connected in healthy ways. Plus, she was very connected to his large and complicated family. I couldn’t always keep every one straight and how they were related to one another, but the weaving of the stories, the texture of the connections, like the braiding of hair, which she mentioned often, were memorable. This was an unexpected gift.
  • 16 Ways to Create Devotional Writing to Renew the Spirit and Refresh the Soul by David J. Sluka. A book to keep on my shelf for the day, if that comes, when I decide to write devotions for women elders.

It is already February 3, and I have read….sorry, you have to wait till my February Round-Up.

An Invitation: What were your favorite January reads? I would love to know.