Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamott

Mercy is radical kindness, says Anne, in her new book--which is a meditation on the benefits of discovering and extending mercy.  With her trademark humor and candor, the blessings come raining down.  This is a short, beautiful, joyous read that feels like a warm hug from an old friend.  Read it. Just read it.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Ove is a curmudgeon--but behind that cranky exterior there is a story--one that Backman tells with such humor and tenderness that I found myself utterly captivated by this sweet and charming book.  Ove has strict routines, committed principles, and a very short fuse.  When a chatty young couple with two young daughters moves into the complex where he lives and accidentally flatten his mailbox, this puts into motion a series of events that allows Backman to tell Ove's story, and tug at our heart strings all along the way.  This book is currently one of Sweden's most popular literary exports since Steig Larsson's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." 

To give you just a brief sample of Backman's lovely writing, here is one of my favorite passages:  "Death is a strange thing.  People live their whole lives as if it does not exist, and yet it's often one of the great motivations forthe living.  Some of us, in time, become so conscious of it that we live harder, more obstinately, with more fury.  Some need its constant presence to even be aware of its antithesis.  Others become so preoccupied with it that they go into the waiting room long before it has announced its arrival.  We fear it, yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take someone other than ourselves.  For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by.  And leave us there alone."

This is a wonderful book, well worth your time.  

Saturday, March 11, 2017

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Written as a fictional memoir of a famous author, the story is told in a series of flashbacks.  Lucy's childhood was one of extreme poverty, sadness,  and isolation.  The themes dealt with in this book are important ones...how incompletely we know one another, the nature of love and family,  the redemptive power of little things.  But the overriding feeling I took away from this book was loneliness and how it permeated everything in her life.  This quote pretty much sums it up:

"Lonely was the first flavor I had tasted in my life, and it was always there, hidden inside the crevices of my mouth, reminding me."

Mischling by Affinity Konar

Mischling means mixed-blood in German.  It was a legal term used in Nazi Germany to denote persons deemed to have both Aryan and Jewish ancestry.

This holocaust story of 12 year old twin sisters who were selected by Josef Mengele, the Auschwitz physician who performed grotesque experiments on selected prisoners (especially twins), as a part of his "Zoo," is haunting and anguished.  The story is told in alternating chapters by Stasha and Pearl--the first half concentrating on their captivity, and the second half taking place after the advance of the Soviet army and the liberation of Auschwitz.

Some critics have criticized the book because of the beautiful language used by Konar in telling the tale, and the danger that is inherent in creating art out of such tortured history.  But in my opinion, rather than strip the tale of its horror, such language by contrast makes the evil all too real.  Nightmarish, dark, and painful as it was--it was still a story beautifully told.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

This moving story unfolds in a graveyard over the course of a single night.  The Civil War is less than a year old--the fighting has just begun in earnest.  President Lincoln's beloved eleven year old son, Willie, dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery.  From this, Saunders spins a story of love and loss using a panorama of voices (living and dead, historical and invented) asking us how we manage to live and love when everything we love must end? I don't think I've ever read anything quite like it.  Beautiful, strange, elegiac, and quite astonishing (with exquisite writing), and yet at times I felt completely adrift.  This book just has to be experienced.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher

This book has been called witty, ramshackle, and outrageous.  It is definitely all those things.  Fisher details the tragedies of her life as if she was doing stand-up comedy.  She never bemoans the things that happened to her and certainly doesn't try to make you feel sorry for her.  She is so honest that at times it will make you cringe, but her trademark self-deprecating wit and humor carry the day.  And in between the laughs are some serious messages about love and forgiveness.  This book is a wild ride but her articulate sharp observations of her battle with her demons and the way that battle played out in her life and the famous people sprinkled through it makes for quite a story.

My favorite quote:  "I don't hate hardly ever, and when I love, I love for miles and miles. A love so big it should either be outlawed or it should have a capital and its own currency."
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