Friday 31 August 2012

Elwell Hunt, Angela "The Tale of Three Trees"

Elwell Hunt, Angela "The Tale of Three Trees" - 1989

I bought this children's book a long time ago. It was at an event for parents and it was not easy to buy English books at the time, let alone children's books. So, I jumped at the opportunity without even knowing what it was about. All I knew, one of the other mothers recommended it.

Am I glad I listened to her. This has been one of the best books for children about religion that I have ever seen. The story of three trees that want to become something great, they want to hold treasures, sail the seven sees or become the tallest trees ever. None of their dreams comes true the way they imagine but they find that they were destined for something so much greater.

I have not only read this book to my own children but also used it in my RE group at church every Christmas and Easter time. It teaches children about religion but also tells them that sometimes our dreams do come true, only in a different way. If you are into Christianity and look for a good children's book, this should be it.

From the back cover:

Once upon a mountaintop, three little trees stood and dreamed of what they wanted to become when they grew up... This lyrical retelling of a popular folk tale is suitable for any time of the year, but has particular links to Christmas and Easter. It tells of the hopes and dreams of the three little trees that are surprised by the way their dreams of greatness come true."

(Also available as a board book. I haven't seen it but I'm sure it must be cute.)

Monday 27 August 2012

Vilar, Esther "The Manipulated Man"

Vilar, Esther "The Manipulated Man" (German: Der dressierte Mann) - 1971

This book is either a joke or, no, if I had never heard of Esther Vilar, I would have thougt it's the most hilarious satire ever. However, I grew up in Germany and, at the time, the television was full of emancipated women having huge discussions with Esther Vilar who would stand her ground and defend her position. She means it. Or meant it. Who knows what she thinks today.

In her eyes, women are all dumb and play the little wife in order for men to support them. None of them really marries for love, no, they marry to have a slave who will provide her with everything so she can have an easy life.

I think this is a wonderful book to discuss in person, but you can definitely not take it seriously. At least not today, more than fourty years after it was first published.

From the back cover:

"Esther Vilar's classic polemic about the relationship between the sexes caused a sensation on its first publication. Her perceptive, thought-provoking and often very funny look at the battle between the sexes has earned her severe criticism and even death threats. But Vilar's intention is not misogynous: she maintains that only if women and men look at their place in society with honesty, will there be any hope for change."

And no, this book is  in no way comparable to Allison Pearson's "I Don't Know How She Does It" or Iris Krasnow's "The Surrendering to Motherhood: Losing Your Mind, Finding Your Soul".

Thursday 23 August 2012

Judge a reader by his books

I already talked about judging a book by its cover or not (which I think we should). But what about the reader?

I can't resist. Whenever I come to a person's house, the part that interests me most is their bookshelf. I don't care for their furniture, their drapes, their coffee cups, it's their books I'm interested in. The question is, can I judge them by the books they read or display? (Of course, the next question would be, does he read the books or are they just there to show off.)

Or in public, someone reading in the train or in a waiting room, my eyes wander instantly to the book someone is reading.

So, do you or don't you? Judge them. I know I do. If someone has a similar interest to mine, I instantly feel we share something, have something in common, something to talk about.

Doesn't mean I dislike the person who has different books. People I have the biggest problem with, you guessed it, are those with no books at all. What kind of a world is that?

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Shreve, Anita "The Weight of Water"

Shreve, Anita "The Weight of Water" - 1997

I read this novel ages ago and really had to think about what it was all about. Reading the description on the back "Compelling and beautifully written etc. etc." really didn't help. But, having a glance at the book helped a little.

If I don't remember a novel, it usually says that it didn't make a big impact on me.

I do remember two different kind of stories, one in the 1800s, the other one today. A murder that happened in the first time-frame and a journalist uncovering it all a century later. Not normally my type of reading and, as it didn't leave an impact, this one was no exception.

From the back cover:

"On Smuttynose Island, off the coast of New Hampshire, more than a century ago, two Norwegian immigrant women were brutally murdered. A third woman survived by hiding in a cave until dawn. In 1995, Jean, a photographer, is sent on an assignment to shoot a photo essay about the legendary crime. Taking her extended family with her, Jean stays in a sailboat anchored off the coast, and finds herself gradually becoming more and more engrossed in the bay's mysterious and gruesome past. Wandering into a library one day, she unearths letters written by Maren, the sole survivor of the murder spree. Jean's fear of losing all that she cares about is reflected in Maren's poignant tale of love and loss, and her obsession with the ancient story drives her to wild impulsive action -- with unrecoverable consequences."

Friday 17 August 2012

Rutherfurd, Edward "Dublin"

Rutherfurd, Edward "Dublin: Foundation (The Princes of Ireland: The Dublin Saga)" - 2004

Amazon writes that "few authors are as ambitious as Edward Rutherfurd". I couldn't agree more. The amount of research that must go into his novels can only be described as vast, enormous, gigantic. After reading "London" and "The Forest", I was determined to read all of his books. This came up next. I love Ireland as much as England which I still very much call my home, even though I have moved away a long time ago.

Reaching from the fifth into the 16th century, this novel introduces us to the Ireland of the druids and the ancient Celts until the beginning of the Tudor reign. Rutherfurd draws a picture of a fierce and proud people, he carries on his tales through the centuries by introducing families the reader can follow through time. Unbelievably interesting, a fascinating read that teaches you history on the side.

From the back cover:

"Edward Rutherfurd's great Irish epic reveals the story of the people of Ireland through the focal point of the island's capital city. The epic begins in pre-Christian Ireland during the reign of the fierce and powerful High Kings at Tara, with the tale of two lovers, the princely Conall and the ravishing Deirdre, whose travails echo the ancient Celtic legend of Cuchulainn. From this stirring beginning, Rutherfurd takes the reader on a graphically realised journey through the centuries. Through the interlocking stories of a powerfully-imagined cast of characters - druids and chieftains, monks and smugglers, merchants and mercenaries, noblewomen, rebels and cowards - we see Ireland through the lens of its greatest city."

Looking forward to reading part 2 of this saga, "Awakening" that takes us from the end of this book into our present time.

Find a link to all my reviews on his other novels here.

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Dohaney, M.T. "A Fit Month for Dying"

Dohaney, M.T. "A Fit Month for Dying" - 2000

After reading "The Corrigan Women" and "To Scatter Stones" that had been recommended by a Canadian friend, I found out that there was a third novel of the Corrigan Women. I found it as a used copy because it is out of print (at least in Europe). And I am glad I didn't buy a new copy because I was thoroughly disappointed.

This was a poor try to put as many complications in what I can only call chick lit into one book. I was expecting the story to go on about life of ordinary women in a remote part of Canada but found one that was full of problems discussed in almost every book you read nowadays. There is a father who left before the child was born, there is a woman who is working as a politician (even though that is supposed to be the main story, this subject is only touched slightly), there is the usual bashing of the Catholic church, the "alibi gay", M.T. Dohaney slightly touched every single topic that is discussed nowadays.

She would have done better if she had concentrated on one of those subjects and maybe written a fourth book where she touched the next. Now, she only scratched the surface. Disappointing.

From the back cover:

"A Fit Month for Dying is the third book in M.T. Dohaney's highly praised trilogy about the women of Newfoundland's outports. Fans of The Corrigan Women and To Scatter Stones will embrace this new book, while those reading the author for the first time will discover her characteristic bittersweet humour. Tess Corrigan seems to be living the good life. She is a popular politician, the first woman to serve as a Member of the House of Assembly. Her husband Greg is a successful lawyer and son Brendan is a seemingly happy hockey-mad twelve-year-old. Originally from the village of The Cove, the family is now comfortably ensconced in Newfoundland's capital city of St. John's. Urged on by Greg's mother Philomena, Tess sets out to unravel her convoluted family tree. She searches out her natural father who is living in a retirement community, or as he calls it a "raisin farm," in Arizona. Ed Strominski was an American serving at the Argentia Naval Base when he married Tess's mother Carmel. Charming and outgoing, his one flaw was neglecting to reveal the small detail that he already had a wife. The stigma of growing up as the daughter of the abandoned "poor Carmel" has shaped Tess's life.

Involved with her own family problems and with her political work, Tess has no inkling of trouble when Brendan begs her to let him quit the Altar Servers' Association at their St. John's church. Always forthright, Tess insists that he fulfill his responsibilities to the organization. Her decision sets into motion a series of betrayals, revelations, and realizations that change forever her family and the village of The Cove. After a confrontation with the father of one of Brendan's friends, Tess is shattered by the disclosure that her son has been abused by their trusted priest, Father Tom. Shame and grief envelop the family and their world becomes as turbulent as the seas of Newfoundland. Deeply held beliefs are destroyed as the characters begin to challenge long imposed systems of cultural, political, and spiritual authority. But out of the ashes of Tess's life a small phoenix of hope arises in the form of Greg's brother who, on his way to a feed of capelin, reveals to her his own story of abuse and survival. Buoyed by his story, Tess begins to gather strength to rebuild her life, her family, and her faith in human nature.

Saturday 11 August 2012

Oprah’s Book Club

Oprah’s Book Club

I love Oprah Winfrey's Book Club. Her selection of books agrees with me. Her book club was very popular when we started our international one. At least, in the beginning we used to read a lot of her choices. Then we decided it would be time for a book that was NOT on her list, so one of our members suggested a book written by the sister of a friend *. She was a new author and not well known, yet. So, we picked the book and went shopping. Guess what, it had just been selected book of the month by Oprah. So, we gave in, there was no way escaping her, we shared the same taste.

During the years, I have found many good reads on Oprah's list, whether it is her "old" book club or the later "classic reads".

Oprah has also written a lot about books and authors, and a lot of that can be seen on her website Oprah's Book Club 2.0 and you can find any of her books on her archive page.

This the list of her books. It has given me a lot of interesting literature and I enjoy adding a new book from time to time to my list of books I read.

Oprah’s Book Club
September     The Deep End of the Ocean, Jacquelyn Mitchard
October     Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison
November     The Book of Ruth, Jane Hamilton
December     She's Come Undone, Wally Lamb

February     Stones from the River, Ursula Hegi
April         The Rapture of Canaan, Sheri Reynolds
May         The Heart of a Woman, Maya Angelou
June         Songs In Ordinary Time, Mary McGarry Morris
September     The Meanest Thing To Say, Bill Cosby
September     A Lesson Before Dying, Ernest J. Gaines
October     A Virtuous Woman, Kaye Gibbons
October     Ellen Foster, Kaye Gibbons
December     The Treasure Hunt, Bill Cosby
December     The Best Way to Play, Bill Cosby

January     Paradise, Toni Morrison
March         Here on Earth, Alice Hoffman
April         Black and Blue, Anna Quindlen
May         Breath, Eyes, Memory, Edwidge Danticat
June         I Know This Much Is True, Wally Lamb
September     What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, Pearl Cleage
October     Midwives, Chris Bohjalian
December     Where the Heart Is, Billie Letts

January     Jewel, Bret Lott
February     The Reader, Bernhard Schlink
March         The Pilot's Wife, Anita Shreve
May         White Oleander, Janet Fitch
June         Mother of Pearl, Melinda Haynes
September     Tara Road, Maeve Binchy
October     River, Cross My Heart, Breena Clarke
November     Vinegar Hill, A. Manette Ansay
December     A Map of the World, Jane Hamilton

January     Gap Creek, Robert Morgan
February     Daughter of Fortune, Isabel Allende
March         Back Roads, Tawni O'Dell
April         The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
May         While I Was Gone, Sue Miller
June         The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
August     Open House, Elizabeth Berg
September     Drowning Ruth, Christina Schwarz
November     House of Sand and Fog, Andre Dubus III

January     We Were the Mulvaneys, Joyce Carol Oates
March         Icy Sparks, Gwyn Hyman Rubio
May         Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail, Malika Oufkir
June         Cane River, Lalita Tademy
September     The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
November     A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry

January     Fall on Your Knees, Ann-Marie MacDonald
April         Sula, Toni Morrison

June         East of Eden, John Steinbeck
September     Cry, The Beloved Country, Alan Paton

January     One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
April         The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
May         Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
September     The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck

June         The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Light in August, William Faulkner
September     A Million Little Pieces, James Frey

January     Night, Elie Wiesel

January     The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography, Sidney Poitier
March         The Road, Cormac McCarthy
June         Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
October     Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
November     The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett

January     A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle
September     The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski

September     Say You're One of Them, Uwem Akpan

September     Freedom, Jonathan Franzen
December     Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

Discover the Power Within You, Eric Butterworth
The Known World, Edward P. Jones

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, Ayana Mathis

The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd
Ruby, Cynthia Bond

The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
Love Warrior, Glennon Doyle Melton

Behold the Dreamers, Imbolo Mbue

An American Marriage, Tayari Jones
The Sun Does Shine, Anthony Ray Hinton
Becoming, Michelle Obama

The Water Dancer, Ta-Nehisi Coates
Olive, Again, Elizabeth Strout

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family, by Robert Kolker
Deacon King Kong, James McBride
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson

Gilead, Home, Lila, Jack, Marilynne Robinson
The Sweetness of Water, Nathan Harris
The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
Bewilderment, Richard Powers

The Way of Integrity: Finding the Path to Your True Self , Martha Beck
Finding Me, Viola Davis
Nightcrawling, Leila Mottley
That Bird Has My Wings: The Autobiography of an Innocent Man on Death Row, Jarvis Jay Masters
Demon Copperhead, Barbara Kingsolver

Bittersweet, Susan Cain
Hello Beautiful, Ann Napolitano
The Covenant of Water, Abraham Verghese
Wellness, Nathan Hill
Let Us Descend, Jesmyn Ward

*Funnily enough, we later had a member who was a friend of that author and knew the sister, as well. The world is small.

Thursday 9 August 2012

Gao, Xingjian "Soul Mountain"


Gao, Xingjian "Soul Mountain" (Chinese: 灵山, língshān) – 1989

An extraordinary book. A biography, a search for someone's soul in a world where the individual means nothing. A collection of stories from the now to the past, jumping to and fro but after a while, you get the hang of it. An introduction to the characters that are "I" and "you", "he", and "she" but they all seem to intermingle. A story about a traveler who discovers his own country and thereby discovers himself. And on the side, he introduces the reader to a lot of Chinese culture, religion, politics and history as well as his own story, the story of his father, his ancestors.

I also liked his insight into many problems that are out of his way, you would think he has other problems of his own to think about but, no, he comes up with quotes like "...when people assault nature [sic] nature inevitably takes revenge." or "... nature is not frightening, it's people who are frightening!"

One of my favourite passages: "I am perpetually searching for meaning, but what in fact is meaning? Can I stop people from constructing this big dam as an epitaph for the annihilation of their selves? I can only search for the self of the I who is small and insignificant like a grain of sand. I may as well write a book on the human self without worrying whether it will be published. But then of what consequence is it whether one book more, or one book less, is written? Hasn't enough culture been destroyed? Does humankind need so much culture? And moreover, what is culture?"

And then, as an Esperanto speaker myself, I love it when I find my language in a book: "He had a deep voice and could sing L'Internationale in Esperanto."

This is certainly not an easy read, something you read on the side to hear a "nice story". The author challenges you to try to understand his ways, his culture's ways. And by accompanying him on his search for Soul Mountain at the source of the You River, you can find a lot about yourself, as well.

From the back cover:
" In 1983, Chinese playwright, critic, fiction writer, and painter Gao Xingjian was diagnosed with lung cancer and faced imminent death. But six weeks later, a second examination revealed there was no cancer -- he had won 'a reprieve from death'. Faced with a repressive cultural environment and the threat of a spell in a prison farm, Gao fled Beijing and began a journey of 15,000 kilometers into the remote mountains and ancient forests of Sichuan in southwest China. The result of this epic voyage of discovery is Soul Mountain.

Bold, lyrical, and prodigious, Soul Mountain probes the human soul with an uncommon directness and candor and delights in the freedom of the imagination to expand the notion of the individual self."

Xingjian Gao received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2000 "for an oeuvre of universal validity, bitter insights and linguistic ingenuity, which has opened new paths for the Chinese novel and drama".

I contribute to this page: Read the Nobels and you can find all my blogs about Nobel Prize winning authors and their books here.

Carroll, James "Practicing Catholic"

Carroll, James "Practicing Catholic" - 2009

An interesting perspective of an ex-priest but still very much practicing catholic who has a great knowledge about Catholicism. I learned a lot from this book both about the spiritual as well as the practical and historical side of my belief.

From the back cover:
"James Carroll turns to the notion of practice - both as a way to learn and a means of improvement - as a lens for this thoughtful and frank look at what it means to be Catholic. He acknowledges the slow and steady transformation of the Church from its darker, medieval roots to a more pluralist and inclusive institution, charting along the way stories of powerful Catholic leaders (Pope John XXIII, Thomas Merton, John F. Kennedy) and historical milestones like Vatican II. These individuals and events represent progress for Carroll, a former priest, and as he considers the new meaning of belief in a world that is increasingly as secular as it is fundamentalist, he shows why the world needs a Church that is committed to faith and renewal."

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Fitzgerald, Penelope "The Bookshop"

Fitzgerald, Penelope "The Bookshop" - 1978

"A town that lacks a bookshop isn't always a town that wants one". Unfortunately, this is the morale of the story. A widow opens a bookshop, something most readers dream of. Alas, the rest of the little town is not very welcoming, they ignore her business, they are plain hostile to her.

I was attracted to this book because of its title, obviously. It had a promising start but the book didn't live up to it. A little too superficial, a little too "easy reading" for me. But if you're into a light "beach read", you might appreciate this.

From the back cover:

"In the small East Anglian coastal town of Hardborough, Florence Green decides, against polite but ruthless local opposition, to open a bookshop.

Hardborough quickly becomes a battleground – for Florence has tried to change the way things have always been done. As a result, she has to take on not only the people who have made themselves important, but natural and even supernatural forces too. Her fate will strike a chord with anyone who knows that life has treated them with less than justice

Penelope Fitzgerald was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for "The Bookshop" in 1978.

Tuesday 7 August 2012

Grisham, John "Skipping Christmas"

Grisham, John "Skipping Christmas: A Novel" - 2001

To say it right away, I am not a thriller reader, so John Grisham is not on top of my list of authors I want to read before I die. However, this novel was recommended to me by a friend who said I had to read it because "it's not like the usual Grisham books".

True, well, I suppose it's true. It is not a thriller. It is a comedy, and quite a hilarious one. A couple decides not to celebrate Christmas this year. Their daughter is away, they want to spend the money on a cruise instead. But - they didn't count in their neighbours, the Christmas committees, the church, the Scouts, and any other person who wants to make Christmas that special time of the year where you part with all your money for the benefit of others ... If you didn't think the hype at Christmastime is overdone, you will certainly get the idea when you've read this book.

The movie, on the other hand, is awful, even the lovely Jamie Lee Curtis couldn't save it.

From the back cover:

"Imagine a year without Christmas. No crowded malls, no corny office parties, no fruitcakes, no unwanted presents. That’s just what Luther and Nora Krank have in mind when they decide that, just this once, they’ll skip the holiday altogether. Theirs will be the only house on Hemlock Street without a rooftop Frosty, they won’t be hosting their annual Christmas Eve bash, they aren’t even going to have a tree. They won’t need one, because come December 25 they’re setting sail on a Caribbean cruise. But as this weary couple is about to discover, skipping Christmas brings enormous consequences - and isn’t half as easy as they’d imagined.

A classic tale for modern times,
Skipping Christmas offers a hilarious look at the chaos and frenzy that have become part of our holiday tradition."

Sunday 5 August 2012

Visiting the Buddenbrook House

During our last holidays, we visited the beautiful town of Lübeck, situated in the North of Germany, at the Baltic Sea. During the Cold War, this was the last town in North-Western Germany. Today, luckily, you wouldn't even be able to tell. You also can't tell that more than 1,000 houses were totally or partly destroyed in 1942 through Allied bombings. Today, it is full of old houses, huge churches, a pretty little river flowing through the town, and the home town to three Nobel prize winners. Willy Brandt was born here, our former chancellor who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1971 for his efforts to reconcile West Germany and the Eastern countries, East Germany, Poland and the Soviet Union. Günter Grass, author, graphic artist, sculptor and Nobel Prize winner for Literature (in 1999), originally from Gdańsk (then Danzig) lives here now.

And then there is the family Mann. Heinrich Mann, the elder brother, and Thomas Mann, the Nobel Prize winner for Literature in 1929. Both very famous in their own right and known for a vast amount of novels, plays, short stories, essays and their social criticism, and both had to go into exile during the Nazi regime. The Mann family was a renowned merchant family, their father a Senator of the Hanseatic city of Lübeck. The brothers grew up in a large and wealthy family and drew the ideas for their subjects from their everyday life.

"Buddenbrooks" (GE: Buddenbrooks) is one of my favourite novels ever. We read it in the book club and I wrote a review about it here. You can visit the house of the family Mann, it has been transformed into a museum as the "Buddenbrook House".

In 1842, Johann Siegmund Mann jun. (Thomas' and Heinrich's grandfather) bought the house in the Mengstraße and today it is known as the house of the family Buddenbrook. A beautiful white house with a Baroque façade and a Rococo gable, in the middle of the town, just next to the largest church St. Marien. The two lowest stories have been transformed into a museum with information on the family Mann and the house itself, on the third floor, you can see two rooms that have been restored to look like the rooms in the book when the family is leaving the house. There are several little items strewn throughout the rooms with the respective passages from the novel to show what they mean.

I would have loved to have the whole house restored to see how the Buddenbrooks (or Manns) really lived, but on the whole, this was a very pleasant visit and I can only recommend to anyone who is interested in literature to read the book and visit the house if you are in the area.

I contribute to this page: Read the Nobels and you can find all my blogs about Nobel Prize winning authors and their books here.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Shute, Nevil "A Town Like Alice"

Shute, Nevil "A Town Like Alice" (US Title: The Legacy) - 1950

A young English woman works in Malaya (now Malaysia) during World War II and becomes a prisoner of war of the Japanese. Since they don't know where to put the group of women and children, they march them from one place to the next. A young Australian POW tries to help them and gets in trouble himself like that.

This is roughly the description of the book when you read the dust jacket. But that is only a small summary of a very small part of the story.

The author says that the march has taken place, not in Malaya but in Sumatra, and the women were not English but Dutch.

There are a lot of words, actions and thoughts that would definitely not be politically correct nowadays but if one considers when this novel was written, it is difficult to imagine it without those racist remarks.

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this book that takes place in three continents during several different years. You get to know a lot of different people and areas and historical facts. You can imagine how people have started to live in the middle of nowhere and how small settlements have become big towns - or not.

Great book.

From the back cover:

"Nevil Shute's most beloved novel, a tale of love and war, follows its enterprising heroine from the Malayan jungle during World War II to the rugged Australian outback.

Jean Paget, a young Englishwoman living in Malaya, is captured by the invading Japanese and forced on a brutal seven-month death march with dozens of other women and children. A few years after the war, Jean is back in England, the nightmare behind her. However, an unexpected inheritance inspires her to return to Malaya to give something back to the villagers who saved her life. Jean's travels leads her to a desolate Australian outpost called Willstown, where she finds a challenge that will draw on all the resourcefulness and spirit that carried her through her war-time ordeals.