Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Review: Tell the Wolves I'm Home

I had no intention of reading Tell the Wolves I'm Home because the description on the jacket was so unappetizing. I am grateful my book club chose this novel — it's one of my favorite reads of the year so far.

The book jacket makes the story sound like an AIDS story, which is totally inaccurate. Rather, it's a story of grief and loss; of growing up, growing apart, and growing together; of self-discovery and of the discovery of the world from a different perspective; of family; of tolerance. Carol Rifka Brunt captures this through the voice and experiences of an unlikely character: 14-year-old June, a girl at the stage in life where her self-awareness often shrinks to a microcosm of her own life.

AIDS may be a factor in this book, but it is by no means a central character. In fact, the family and community treat the disease — and the people with it — with more compassion and honesty than I would have expected. What a welcome respite from the real world, in which HIV-AIDS was (and to a certain extent, remains) a media circus threat and mystery.

June grieves for her Uncle Finn, her godfather and closest friend who, in his last year of life, is painting a portrait of her and her 16-year-old sister Greta. June thinks she knows her uncle because her uncle knows her. June doesn't know much beyond her direct experiences with Finn, so she's shocked to find out that he has a "special friend," and even more shocked that this mystery person is accused by her family of infecting Finn with AIDS.

Tell the Wolves I'm Home is about growing up and growing out of the role of a protected child, finding one's own path on the cusp of adulthood and learning what boundaries are worth pushing and what rules should remain unbroken. It's about finding out that people are more than just who they appear to be. It is rooted in a time and place: New York, 1987. It is told by a reliable narrator in a compelling story with rich description and great honesty. It's perhaps one of the best coming of age stories I've read in a long time. And it's a touching love story between people who are trying to figure out how to live with grief and loss.

Read this book and be just as surprised as June that life isn't exactly how it looks from your passenger seat on the train.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Summer Reading Club: Go Wild!

Are you ready for some reading?

Get your books in a row in time for the 2015 Summer Reading Club.

There are lots of reasons to enjoy a summer read. You can use it to catch up on the good stuff you think is too Fluff 'n Trash™ for the rest of the year. Maybe it's time to focus on one genre, the one you never admit to in mixed company. Maybe you just want to walk into the library once a week and pick up the first book that looks good.

For whatever reason, indulge. Read all summer, and enjoy yourself.

And maybe win a book.

That's right: if you are the book club member who reads the most books, you will win a new book.

The reading period is from Memorial Day through the end of summer. This year, let's choose Friday, May 22 through Sunday, September 27.

Send me your list any time you're ready. I'll publish mine by the end of May.

Join the club: read all summer!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Dulce Et Decorum Est — National Poetry Month

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

by Wilfred Owen
courtesy War Poetry

Thursday, April 16, 2015

XIII (Dedications), during National Poetry Month

I include for your considerations one of my favorite poems. Every time I read it, I feel like it reveals one more wonderful image previously unnoticed. And yes, I include it every year. I shall continue to do so if I wish. It, simply, is that deserving.

Visit Hedgehog Lover to enjoy a poem every day during National Poetry Month; however, I will post poems from time to time From One Book Lover during April. Poetry is that deserving. Thank you for reading it!

XIII (Dedications)

I know you are reading this poem
late, before leaving your office
of the one intense yellow lamp-spot and the darkening window
in the lassitude of a building faded to quiet
long after rush-hour. I know you are reading this poem
standing up in a bookstore far from the ocean
on a gray day of early spring, faint flakes driven
across the plains' enormous spaces around you.
I know you are reading this poem
in a room where too much has happened for you to bear
where the bedclothes lie in stagnant coils on the bed
and the open valise speaks of flight
but you cannot leave yet. I know you are reading this poem
as the underground train loses momentum and before running
up the stairs
toward a new kind of love
your life has never allowed.
I know you are reading this poem by the light
of the television screen where soundless images jerk and slide
while you wait for the newscast from the intifada.
I know you are reading this poem in a waiting-room
of eyes met and unmeeting, of identity with strangers.
I know you are reading this poem by fluorescent light
in the boredom and fatigue of the young who are counted out,
count themselves out, at too early an age. I know
you are reading this poem through your failing sight, the thick
lens enlarging these letters beyond all meaning yet you read on
because even the alphabet is precious.
I know you are reading this poem as you pace beside the stove
warming milk, a crying child on your shoulder, a book in your
because life is short and you too are thirsty.
I know you are reading this poem which is not in your language
guessing at some words while others keep you reading
and I want to know which words they are.
I know you are reading this poem listening for something, torn
between bitterness and hope
turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse.
I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else
left to read
there where you have landed, stripped as you are.

by Adrienne Rich
from Atlas of a Difficult World

Friday, April 3, 2015

National Poetry Month: The seder's order

The seder's order

The songs we join in
are beeswax candles
burning with no smoke
a clean fire licking at the evening
our voices small flames quivering.
The songs string us like beads
on the hour. The ritual is
its own melody that leads us
where we have gone before
and hope to go again, the comfort
of year after year. Order:
we must touch each base
of the haggadah as we pass,
blessing, handwashing,
dipping this and that. Voices
half harmonize on the brukhahs.
Dear faces like a multitude
of moons hang over the table
and the truest brief blessing:
affection and peace that we make.

by Marge Piercy, from The Crooked Inheritance
courtesy The Poetry Foundation 

Stop by Hedgehog Lover to get a poem a day during National Poetry Month!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

National Poetry Month: Richard

My bones, scripted in light, upon cold soil,
a human braille. My skull, scarred by a crown,
emptied of history. Describe my soul
as incense, votive, vanishing; your own
the same. Grant me the carving of my name.

These relics, bless. Imagine you re-tie
a broken string and on it thread a cross,
the symbol severed from me when I died.
The end of time – an unknown, unfelt loss –
unless the Resurrection of the Dead …

or I once dreamed of this, your future breath
in prayer for me, lost long, forever found;
or sensed you from the backstage of my death,
as kings glimpse shadows on a battleground.

by Carol Ann Duffy, Poet Laureate of England 
Read by Benedict Cumberbatch at the Richard III reburial service

Celebrate National Poetry Month: visit Hedgehog Lover to enjoy a poem a day in April.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Review: Natchez Burning

Full disclosure: I read only 571 of the 800 pages of Natchez Burning, and that was because the central story regarding long-unsolved civil rights crimes in Mississippi and the men who perpetrated them was really, really exciting.

However, I stopped reading long after I should have. I found Greg Iles' depiction of women in this novel sexist. Men were characters with purpose, whose actions defined them and whose purpose was clear. Not so for women.

In Natchez Burning, women are caricatures who smell like sex and whose actions are not honest or honorable. Women are described regularly with ample adjectives: beautiful, ambitious, desirable, wild, sexual or ruthless. Their actions need adjectives and adverbs, and they're reduced to hormones and a uterus.

At first, I thought it was the failure of the characters. I thought maybe that is just how Penn Cage saw them. Maybe Penn Cage was the sexist. Alas, I should have taken a clue when Albert needed to turn on a fan to get a woman's sex smell out of a room early in the book. Following that, Tom and Page both thought Viola smelled like sex, then Katie Royal was "never the same" after her wild encounters with Pookie. Then Mrs. Doctor Cage was the stand-by-your-man wife of 52 years with literal blind trust in her husband and seen only in relation to them. Then Pithy was the town gossip. The myriad of nurses were stalwart, but rather forgettable.

Then there was Caitlin, the beautiful, ambitious, ruthless and cruel newspaper publisher whose only thought was a story that could win her a second Pulitzer Prize. However, her sexuality was never far away: one of the first conversations between Penn and Caitlin involve Penn asking how late her period was, to distract her from wheedling information out of him. Thus I understood what I suspected would become a major plot complication.

Caitlin's male counterpart, Henry, is ambitious and working in near-obscurity to crack wide open a story steeped in civil rights struggles and murder. Henry's physical description is part of the story, but the narrative doesn't describe his "flashing green eyes," not once. Caitlin, however, has flashing green eyes — and, when she dashes out to a story, the narration notes that she doesn't have time to fix her hair or put on makeup. Her ambition, her wealth, her drive, her physical presence and feminine elements are described in great detail. Henry, however, simply does his job without mention of his need to shower, shave or primp.

I slowed down a little when Caitlin described how her life may change with the responsibilities of home and hearth. She reviewed the whole career-home dichotomy, which may have been fair. However, Penn the single father rarely worried about how his activities would affect his pre-teen daughter, Annie. Aside from a couple of inconveniences when his family or fiancĂ©e stepped in to help him with — well, anything, Annie was not a major concern.

Caitlin was ruthless almost to the point of twirling a virtual mustache. She shows more interested in whether Henry will be her employee to give her the story he's developed over the years than in his physical safety or health. Caitlin pumps her arms in glee that she has a story while Henry is in eminent danger. She has lived and worked in close proximity to the people and place of the news but shows interest only when it's big enough for her and shows interest in Henry only for what he can give her. Penn has built a relationship, but Caitlin has bought a story.

What made me close this book? The stupidest conversation I ever read between two ambitious, successful women.

Penn and Caitlin met Jordan and John for a major plot complication. The men marched off to talk business, and the women presumably did the same — only not. Penn and John mentioned the women only peripherally, and that was to confirm the wall between their professional and private roles. Jordan and Caitlin, however, began with griping about their men, which then devolved into "don't wait to make marriage and babies because life is too short." Really? Two women with three Pulitzer Prizes between them, one of whom had been in a war zone, who are knee-deep in solving a historic civil rights mystery (and possibly earning another Pulitzer each) aren't talking about the case, but over-sharing about their family lives.

I had to put it down.

I am very disappointed. I was sucked into an exciting story that had scope, pathos, historic resonance and relevance. What I got was a man who created female caricatures.

Let me know what you thought of the characters and the depiction of the sexes in Natchez Burning. I would love to be proven wrong, or maybe even over-sensitive. I'm a huge fan of Iles and I don't want to be disappointed.