Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Running Books I’ve Recently Added to my TBR (to be read) List

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week it is about 10 books in a particular genre that you’ve recently added to your TBR list.  I recently read Born to Run and loved it.  I found it very inspiring and it has changed my whole perspective on running.  Born to Run by Christopher McDougall is probably the most acclaimed and  most widely read book on running out there. Not only does it have great running tips within it, but it is a fascinating story.  As I’ve been running more as a result of that book, I had added other running books to my TBR list hoping to give added inspiration and motivation to continue running.  Have you read any of these?  Did you enjoy them?  Are there any other running books you’ve read and enjoyed?

  1.  Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner
    by Dean Karnazes – a memoir of a ultra-marathoner
  2. An Accidental Athlete: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Middle Age by John Bingham – a memoir of an unlikely marathoner
  3. Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness by Scott Jurek, Steve Friedman – a memoir of Scott Jurek’s running experiences and whole food plant based diet

4.  What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami, Philip Gabriel (Translator) – acclaimed contemporary writer talks about the effect running has had on his writing
5.  Confessions of an Unlikely Runner: A Guide to Racing and Obstacle Courses for the Averagely Fit and Halfway Dedicated
by Dana L. Ayers – humorous memoir of an unlikely runner6.   My Year of Running Dangerously by Tom Foreman – a memoir of a man who, at the age of 51, rekindles his love for running7.  Running Like a Girl by Alexandra Heminsleya memoir of a woman in her 30s who turns her life around with running8.  Running with the Mind of Meditation:  Lessons for Training Body and Mind by Sakyong Mipham A book about incorporating mindful meditation into running to take it to the next level9.  Night Running: A Book of Essays about Breaking Through by multiple authors – a book of essays on running focusing on the power of running to make us feel more and see our lives in a new perspective, with an emphasis on female voices.10.  Run the World by Becky Wade – a memoir by Olympic hopeful about exploring the geographic world of running and unique cultural approaches to it

“We Shall Not All Sleep” by Estep Nagy

Pages:  288

Expected Publication Date:  July 4, 2017

Format:  E-book from netgalley

 

 

 

 

I thought this book was quite brilliant, very literary, and highly intriguing.  It takes place over a few days, however, there are flashbacks to earlier times such that the reader gets a much longer and larger view into the lives of the characters.

The setting is July 1964 during the era of McCarthyism on Seven Island in northern Maine.  Seven is a fictional island home to two very wealthy families whose history is interconnected dating back to  the 1700s.  In present day, each family owns a beautiful house on the island, one yellow and one white.  There is a barn for the animals and outbuildings for the staff, all in bright red.  The Hillsingers are in one house and the Quicks are in the other.  Interestingly, although their histories are connected and the men of these houses married two sisters, their lives have been very separate until these 3 days spent on the island where past and present collide.  There is a huge cast of characters which includes  Billy Quick, Jim Hillsinger, their immediate families, their guests, and the staff.  Within each chapter past and present are described  and the narration jumps from one situation to another.  At first I found this confusing and difficult to track, but fairly quickly on, I had figured out who was who and reading this book was like watching a movie unfold.  It really had a cinematic quality of switching from one scene to another as in a movie.  I can’t compare this quality of the book to another like it, it seemed quite unique.  The effect was tantalizing and compelling, making this a very quick read.  The storyline builds and compounds as the novel progresses reaching the crescendo point by the end.

I won’t say much more as I don’t want to give too much away.  I would definitely recommend this book.  It would make a great beach read as well as a great book club choice.  It contains many historical elements without feeling like it is beating you over the head with them.  They simply exist in the book only because they are important to explaining the characters and their situation.    There are no wasted words in this novel.  It is written succinctly, beautifully and intentionally.   However, the reader, needs to pay close attention, or will miss something.  In short, well written, well researched and well worth the read!

Discussion Questions:

  1.  John Wilkie says “Seven Island is impossible.”  What does he mean by this?  Why does lila enjoy this comment?
  2. In the ARC version, lila’s name is not capitalized while the other characters names are.  Why do you think this is?  What effect does it have on the reader?
  3. “We shall not all sleep” is part of 1 Corinthians “Behold, I tell you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.”  which is also part of the dedication of this novel.  Explain the title and it’s meaning in the context of this novel.
  4. Jim Hillsinger’s father is referred to only as “Old Man.”  Why do you think this is?  Does this have the effect of building him up or diminishing him?
  5. Catta dreams of an eagle dropping out of the sky hunting a rabbit.  Why do you think this it?
  6. Why was it important to Catta to know whether or not the eagles’ nest was a lie or not?
  7. Why was it important for the Old Man to have Catta spend the night on Baffin?
  8. Why does lila find herself now in love with Billy Quick when previously she had merely tolerated him?   What has changed?
  9. In the final conversation between Jim and Billy, Billy is left with the impression that Jim had traded his wife for a list of names.  What do you think the future holds for Billy, Jim and Lila?  Where will there relationships go from here?
  10. Describe the character of James.  Why does he get away with his violent schemes?

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 Most Anticipated Books to be Published in the Second Half of 2017

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is about books we are looking forward to in the second half of 2017.  This was a fun post for me investigating all the books that are about to come out and getting excited for them!  Which of these appeals to you?  What is on your list?

  1.  We Shall Not Sleep by Estep Nagy“The entangled pasts of two ruling class New England families come to light over three summer days on an island in Maine in this extraordinary debut novel.” – Goodreads.  Expected publication date:  July 4, 2017.

Why? It is interesting sounding debut novel about two WASPish families sharing an island and interconnected history off the coast of Maine.

 

 

2.  Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward“In Jesmyn Ward’s first novel since her National Book Award winning Salvage the Bones, this singular American writer brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first-century America. Drawing on Morrison and Faulkner, The Odyssey and the Old Testament, Ward gives us an epochal story, a journey through Mississippi’s past and present that is both an intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle. Ward is a major American writer, multiply awarded and universally lauded, and in Sing, Unburied, Sing she is at the height of her powers.” – Goodreads.  Expected publication date:  September 5, 2017.

Why?  I’ve not read anything by this author before, however, she has won the National Book Award in the past, and this is being touted as her best work yet.

3. Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang “Centered on a community of immigrants who have traded their endangered lives as artists in China and Taiwan for the constant struggle of life at the poverty line in 1990s New York City, Zhang’s exhilarating collection examines the many ways that family and history can weigh us down and also lift us up.” – Goodreads.  Expected publication date:    August 1, 2017.

Why?  This is a collection of short stories about adolescent girls from China and Taiwan living in NYC. It sounds fascinating.

 

4.  A Catalog of Birds by Laura Harrington“Lyrical and affecting, Laura Harrington has written an artful family drama about innocence lost and wounds that may never be healed. This is a tale of forgiveness: of ourselves, of those we love best. Illuminated by grief and desire, the novel is full of spirit, wonder and the possibilities of the future.” – Goodreads.  Expected publication date:  July 11, 2017

Why?  A novel set in the 1970’s, a family drama that sounds uplifting by an award winning author… yes please!

 

 

5.  High Heel by Summer Brennan“Fetishized, demonized, celebrated and outlawed, the high heel is central to the iconography of modern womanhood. But are high heels good? Are they feminist? What does it mean for a woman (or, for that matter, a man) to choose to wear them? Meditating on the labyrinthine nature of sexual identity and the performance of gender, High Heel moves from film to fairytale, from foot binding to feminism, and from the golden ratio to glam rock. It considers this most provocative of fashion accessories as a nexus of desire and struggle, sex and society, setting out to understand what it means to be a woman by walking a few hundred years in her shoes.” – Goodreads.   Expected publication date:  September 7, 2017.

Why?  This is the only non-fiction book on this list.  It is an essay about high heels and is part of an essay series published in partnership with The Atlantic.  I am curious to see what conclusions the author draws on this subject.

6.  The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld“Three years ago, Madison Culver disappeared when her family was choosing a Christmas tree in Oregon’s Skookum National Forest. She would be eight years old now—if she has survived. Desperate to find their beloved daughter, certain someone took her, the Culvers turn to Naomi, a private investigator with an uncanny talent for locating the lost and missing. Known to the police and a select group of parents as “the Child Finder,” Naomi is their last hope.” – Goodreads.  Expected publication date:  September 5, 2017.

Why?  Rene Denfeld’s ‘The Enchanted’  is one of my favorite books.  I’m very excited to read this new novel of hers.

 

 

7.  Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng “When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.” – Goodreads.  Expected publication date:  September 12, 2017

Why? Having really enjoyed ‘Everything I Never Told You’ I’m really looking forward to this new novel of hers.

 

 

8.  Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan“Manhattan Beach opens in Brooklyn during the Great Depression. Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to the house of a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. Anna observes the uniformed servants, the lavishing of toys on the children, and some secret pact between her father and Dexter Styles.” – Goodreads.  Expected publication date:  October 3, 2017

Why?  I never read Jennifer Egan’s The Goon Squad, but had heard such great things about it.  I’m really looking forward to reading this next novel of hers.

 

 

9.  The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas -“Epic, propulsive, incredibly ambitious, and dazzlingly written, The Resurrection of Joan Ashby is a story about sacrifice and motherhood, the burdens of expectation and genius. Cherise Wolas’s gorgeous debut introduces an indelible heroine candid about her struggles and unapologetic in her ambition.” – Goodreads.  Expected publication date:  August 29, 2017.

Why?  The description alone is thoroughly enticing to me.  Also, the reviews I’ve seen thus far have been glowing.  This is the author’s first novel.

 

 

10.  Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss – “One of America’s most important novelists” (New York Times), the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of The History of Love, conjures an achingly beautiful and breathtakingly original novel about personal transformation that interweaves the stories of two disparate individuals—an older lawyer and a young novelist—whose transcendental search leads them to the same Israeli desert.” – Goodreads.  Expected publication date:  September 12, 2017.

Why?  Having loved ‘The History of Love,’  I’m very much looking forward to this new novel by the same author!

“Practicing Normal” by Cara Sue Achterberg

Pages:  336

Expected Publication:  June 6, 2017

Format: E-book from Netgalley

 

 

 

 

As with most ‘women’s literature’ I found things to love and things to hate within this novel.  I think the title is brilliant.  What family isn’t practicing normal?  Every family has it’s own struggles and issues that it is dealing with.  Society expects certain behaviors from people and many families struggle to live up to expectations, both expectations they hold for themselves and those they perceive others to hold of them.

This novel is told from three perspectives:  that of the Dad, Everett;  that of the mother, Kate; and that of the daughter, Jenna.  Within this family unit, there is also an autistic brother, who does not serve as a narrator.

One of my biggest struggles with “women’s literature” is this theme of putting up with an awful male partner for the sake of the family.  This book is a prime example of this.  Kate, the mother, has given up a nursing career she very much enjoyed in order to be there for her family and care for her mother who lives down the street.  She has no friends or outside interests that she pursues.  Her whole life revolves around her family.  However, her husband is absent and deceitful.   One of her his mistresses has already shown up on the doorstep introducing herself and she’s very suspicious he’s cheating again.  He is “working” all hours and constantly checking his phone.  Kate’s mother thinks he’s a louse, but Kate would rather continue putting up with it all, denying the obvious.  Maybe this is to keep up appearances, maybe to prove something to herself, maybe to prove something to her mother.. maybe she is practicing some kind of normal she had hoped for.  The thing that made me most angry about the relationship between Kate and Everett is when she relates a story where Everett raped her.  Since then she is more submissive  to his sexual advances, not wanting a repeat incident.  Kate’s son requires a lot of attention due to Asperger’s and only she and her daughter Jenna seem to know how to relate to him.  Kate’s mother also is increasingly relying on her, refusing to leave her home down the street and refusing to cook for herself.

Everett is an egomaniacal child in an adult’s body.  He is always putting himself first.  He has no real relationship with his children.  He has been caught in one affair and is currently in the midst of another.  He is constantly exchanging text messages while at home with the other woman, Veronica.  He is continually visiting his mistress under the guise of woking late or needing to run out of the house at all hours for something that just came up at work.  He is also attempting to understand Kate and her sister’s blood relationship to their parents through DNA evidence, without first consulting Kate in this matter.

Jenna seems to be the most self-honest and most relatable character to me.  As she is capable of taking care of herself, she is largely left to her own devices.  She is fully aware of her father’s infidelity.  She avoids him and refers to him by first name.  She is angry, dresses in black, has short spiky hair, multiple piercings and spends her days breaking into neighbor’s houses.  She doesn’t break in to steal per se, but to check things out, spend time with cats, experience someone else’s domain.   She gets caught breaking into the neighbor’s house across the street around the same time that their son, the high school football star, is taking a break from football because of his grades.  She begins spending time with this unlikely friend, Wells. The woman with the cats, Cassie, also aware of Jenna’s presence in her home, begins paying Jenna for her time spent playing and feeding her cats.  Wells and Jenna spend time with each other in Cassie’s home, which becomes a refuge for them and their developing closeness.  Jenna, who had seemed such a misfit starts to come of age, grow and become happy with herself.

In the end, Kate does finally awake from her self-delusion.  It is interesting how Kate’s life and her mother’s were similar in their solitary confinement as they tried to practice normal and hide from the glaring problems their family was built on.  If you enjoy “women’s literature,” you will probably love this book.  It is well written and there is a nice metamorphosis of the characters as they are developed within the novel.

 

Cara Sue Achterberg’s Blog

Review by Olga, author, translator, forensic psychiatrist

Top Ten Tuesday: Beach Read Recommendations

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.  Anyone can play, so go ahead and check it out.  With Memorial Day rapidly approaching, this week’s Top Ten Tuesday is based around the theme of beach reads.  What is a beach read?  Most people think of beach reads as light books that are not to emotional or mentally taxing as to distract from the vacation.  However, what people choose to read on beaches varies greatly.  I agree that I’m not interested in reading anything incredibly academic while attempting to relax, but I prefer to avoid overly light and fluffy as well.  I enjoy well written, emotionally and mentally engaging works of literary fiction when I relax on the beach.  Normally, I very much enjoy non-fiction and historical fiction, but I avoid these on vacation.   If you are like me, you might enjoy some of these too!  If you have any to recommend to me based on my beach preferences, I’d love to hear your recommendations!  Next to each book, I’ve included a brief excerpt from the Goodreads description of each.  I’ve also linked to my review for those of which I’ve written reviews.

  1.  Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff – “Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.”
  2. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Temple -“Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.  Then Bernadette disappears.”
  3. Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout – “Written in tandem with My Name Is Lucy Barton and drawing on the small-town characters evoked there, these pages reverberate with the themes of love, loss, and hope that have drawn millions of readers to Strout’s work.”
  4. A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler – “Brimming with all the insight, humour, and generosity of spirit that are the hallmarks of Anne Tyler’s work, A Spool of Blue Thread tells a poignant yet unsentimental story in praise of family in all its emotional complexity.”
  5. Commonwealth by by Ann Patchett – “One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.”
  6. Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld -“This version of the Bennet family and Mr. Darcy is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray.”
  7. Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler – “A lush, raw, thrilling novel of the senses about a year in the life of a uniquely beguiling young woman, set in the wild, alluring world of a famous downtown New York restaurant.”
  8. The Girls by Emma Cline – “Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted.”
  9. The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti – “After years spent living on the run, Samuel Hawley moves with his teenage daughter, Loo, to Olympus, Massachusetts. There, in his late wife’s hometown, Hawley finds work as a fisherman, while Loo struggles to fit in at school and grows curious about her mother’s mysterious death. Haunting them both are twelve scars Hawley carries on his body, from twelve bullets in his criminal past; a past that eventually spills over into his daughter’s present, until together they must face a reckoning yet to come. This father-daughter epic weaves back and forth through time and across America, from Alaska to the Adirondacks.” 
  10. Ways to Disappear by Idra Novel – “Deep in gambling debt, the celebrated Brazilian writer Beatriz Yagoda is last seen holding a suitcase and a cigar and climbing into an almond tree. She abruptly vanishes.”

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite books about Motherhood & Identity Crisis

 

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. Today’s Top Ten Tuesday is about motherhood.  I have chosen the theme of identity crisis in motherhood.  This is the first time I have strayed away from using ten books, but I could only think of 3 great ones that fit the bill.  Please help me and add some others!  I know there are lots more out there and I’d love to hear from you.

  1.  Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple – This is a hilarious book about a stay-at-home mother who disassociates herself from the social niceties of the other private school parents.  She had been an incredible revolutionary architect, but her dreams were dashed by a neighbor who bulldozes her award winning design.  She abandons her career as they move to Seattle with it’s uninspired architecture.  She is married to a Microsoft guru and starts to feel small.  She finally disappears.. to Antartica.
  2. Forty Rooms by Olga Grushin – This is the story of a little girl growing up in Russia with big dreams and aspirations of becoming a poet.  She moves to the United States for college.  She ends up marrying and then having children without fully intending to.  The line between reality and fantasy becomes blurred as she is not sure of who she is, what she was, and if she ever was destined to be a great poet.  My review.  
  3. Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki – This is a novel about art, identity and motherhood.  It is about identity perceptions and truths behind the perceptions.  It is about mothering different children differently.  It is about questioning one’s one identity and decisions.   My review.

“Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen” by Christopher McDougall

Pages:  287

Published:  January 2009

Awards:  Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fiction (2009)

Format:  Audiobook

 

 

 

 

“You don’t stop running because you get old, you get old because you stop running”

This book is an insightful, fascinating and inspirational look into the world of long distance running.  There is a group of people, known as the Tarahumara, who live in the cliff sides of Copper Canyon in Mexico.  This is a lawless area where Tarahumara enjoy relative isolation.   The only other people who spend time in this area are the drug lords.  The Tarahumara run long distances as part of their culture and tradition.  They are a peaceful people who enjoy longevity and a life without crime or mental illness.  They are mistrusting of the outside world, as in the past they have been exploited, enslaved and even decapitated.  They eat a diet composed mostly of corn and corn beer. This novel seeks to understand the world of ultra marathoners, both of those who run as part of their culture in the case of the Tarahumara and those who are drawn to it despite their culture.

I always felt that running great distances was a detriment to one’s health, that running should be done in moderation so as not to wear out one’s body.  However, this book changed my thinking.  The feats that the runners in this book were capable of was awe inspiring.  This book makes the reader believe and understand that we were made to run, we should run and furthermore, that running should be enjoyable.

A group of researchers back in the 1980s came to the realization that human beings were not evolved to be walkers like their closest relative, the chimpanzee.  Human beings were evolved to be runners, to track their prey over long distances.  This is why humans have nuchal ligaments, achilles tendons, an amazing foot structure,  a stride greater than a horse’s, and a pattern of respiration that is not fixed to their stride.  The injuries we see now from running did not exist prior to the advent of the modern running shoe.  With the modern running shoe, feet become weaker.  With the modern running shoe, pain signals are not sent to the brain to indicate improper form.  Thus, poor form and injuries result.  The modern day running shoe has led to an increase in heart disease, knee replacements, and more sedentary lifestyles.  If we trained and ran more like our ancestors we would be much healthier and happier.

Listening to this audio book, I was enthralled by the stories, especially of the races.  Who knew that telling of an account of a 100 mile race could be so riveting and exciting?  Not I.  At least, not until I listened to the tales of the races in this book, including Leadville races and the ultimate race in Copper Canyons.  This is one sport where women can excel and often prevail over the men.  Consider this statistic:  90% of females finish ultra marathons, while only 50% of the men do.  There is great psychology involved in these races according to the author.  The racers often think of themselves as hunter or prey in order to motivate themselves.  In the case of the Tarahumara, there is the joy of sharing a tradition, running together as a people.    It is “character” that the author concludes makes a truly great runner.  Scott Jurek was able to find his tribe wherever he went, transcending cultures and communities, always demonstrating tremendous character.

There was were amazing pearls of advice streaming throughout this novel.  I was mentally storing those I thought would be important for myself and will share some of them here. Stretching leads to more injuries.  It is best to skip it.  The more cushioned the sneakers, the more likely they will lead to injury.  If you are running in a cushioned sneaker, try to add in some barefoot runs in dewy grass.  If you start running long distances, diet should come about naturally to aid the running lifestyle.  A nutrient rich vegan diet is best for a leaner, healthier body.  In the beginning, especially if you are looking to take off some weight, you should run below the aerobic threshold, in the fat-burning zone.  Building up endurance in this zone will make you stronger on longer runs.  The best form when running is to run with a short stride and quick foot turnover.  You should feel as if you have a rope tied around your middle and you are pulling something heavy.  Being a good person, it seems makes you a better runner.  Improving personal relationships and practicing abundance by giving back are pieces of advice given by running coaches.  Vigil, a long time running coach, also advises “ask nothing from your running and you’ll get more than you ever imagined.”

The Tarahumara, a culture of the greatest runners on earth share the following core virtues:  patience, strength, dedication, persistence and cooperation.  Other great runners seem to share these same characteristics, bringing them together in a beautiful community.  The Tarahumara is perhaps the last remaining culture on earth that still incorporates long distance running into their life and culture.  They reap the benefits in health, community and joyfulness.  As scientists have discovered, we were evolved to be runners.  As Dr. Bramble puts it, “Just move your legs.  Because if you don’t think you were born to run, you’re not only denying history.  You’re denying who you are.”

This book convinced me that “running is our superpower, entrenched in the human imagination.”  I have already started to run more because of this book.  I am trying not to be obsessed with heart rate and pace, but to enjoy the meditative aspects of it more.  I highly recommend this book to everyone who runs or is even thinking about running.

The Tarahumara

 

Ann Trason

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scott Jurek & Arnulfo running in Copper Canyon

 

 

Barefoot Ted

 

 

 

 

Jenn Shelton and Billy Barnett

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review of Born to Run by Dan Zak from the Washington Post

Review by Pete Larson on his Runblogger website with some great links

 

“Anything is Possible” by Elizabeth Strout

Pages:  272

Published: April 25, 2017

Format: E-book from Netgalley

 

 

 

 

5 HUGE STARS!  AMAZING!  INCREDIBLE!  FULL OF KINDNESS, COMPASSION AND HUMANITY!

I have been looking forward to this book ever since I heard it was coming out.  It is a companion book to ‘My Name is Lucy Barton‘ which was published last year.  ‘My Name is Lucy Barton’ largely involves conversation between Lucy Barton and her mother in the hospital where Lucy remains hospitalized with complications of appendicitis. It is what is unsaid that is so powerful in that book. The reader becomes aware of extreme poverty and abuse in Lucy’s childhood. Lucy and her siblings were mostly shunned by the other children of their town. However, Lucy has made it out of Amgash, Illinois. She is married though that marriage is failing. She is a writer. She is looking forward, but during this time with her mother, she is also looking back. ‘My Name is Lucy Barton’ is so intriguing, but it leaves the reader with so many questions. So, I could not have been any happier upon hearing that this book was being published.

‘Anything is Possible,’ published about one year after ‘My Name is Lucy Barton’ is told in short stories focusing on different people’s lives in adulthood who had lived in the town Lucy had grown up in. It reminds me so much of ‘Olive Kitteridge’ in the manner in which it is written. Each short story could be published in it’s own right, however, the flow of these stories and their connections to each other make for an incredible read.

It is heartrendingly beautiful, so full of life and heartache. It is so full of humanity.. of the human experience. It describes feelings, emotions, nuances of relationships so well. You experience the pushes and pulls of family, town and the world on the individuals in these stories. Amgash is a small poor town in rural Illinois. There are not many opportunities for upward mobility if one ends up living in town. Those who escape lead vastly different lives, but their pasts continue to haunt them.

Each story is intense in it’s own right. Each tells of a realization of self or family that is immensely important and a turning point in that person or family’s life. Some of these stories had me sobbing, they were that emotional and real. They are all deeply affecting stories, each and every one. They were so compelling that I would not want to stop reading at night. Despite wanting to keep moving ahead, I could have read the same sentence over and over and extracted more meaning from it each time. Each sentence was so loaded and powerful.

But, really what is most special about the book is the message or maybe the many messages. This book tells us that loving imperfectly is ok. Loving imperfectly can be lovely. It tells us that no one is alone, there are always others with shared similar experiences. It demonstrates how a simple small act of compassion can have such a huge impact and effect on the lives of others. It teaches us that feeling pain is actually a gift, for were we not to feel pain, that would be the real tragedy. This novel is about reconnecting with the past and making amends before death. It is about recognizing heroes and heroines, masked in normal everyday clothing. And of course, Elizabeth Strout does all this so eloquently and lovingly. This is a must read.. definitely my favorite book this year!

 

Elizabeth Strout’s website

Review by Heller McAlpin for NPR

Review by Anthony Domestico in the Boston Globe

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What is the meaning of the title?
  2. Discuss the relationship of this book to ‘My Name is Lucy Barton.’ Do you think this book was a necessary counterpart?  Is this book worthy of standing alone, aside from reading ‘My Name is Lucy Barton’?
  3. Was there a particular character in these stories you most enjoyed or related to?  Who and why?
  4. Discuss the effects of extreme poverty and abuse on various characters in this novel?  How was Pete affected? Lucy?
  5. Discuss Lucy Barton’s father?  How did his past affect the way he treated his children?  How are Pet and his father similar?
  6. Discuss the secret Tommy keeps from his wife after the fire.  What happens when Tommy shares this secret with his wife?
  7. Discuss the theme of sexual inability or lack of sexual desire as relates to childhood experiences.  (Pete, Patty, Siggy)
  8. Discuss the pain that Charlie and Siggy share.  Do you think this is what attracts Patty to each of them?
  9. Discuss Linda Nicely’s complicity in Jay’s escapades.  Why is she complicit?  Why does she stay with him?
  10. Discuss the effect of compassion on someone who is not expecting it:  Patty towards Lila Lane and Karen-Lucie towards Linda Nicely.
  11. Discuss the “Hit-Thumb Theory” (the spaciousness of calm before the crash and crush of real pain) and how it relates to this novel.
  12. Compare and contrast Mary Mumford’s life in Italy as and aging woman to what it would have been in Amgash.  What is it that causes Angelina to finally recognize the heroine in her mother?
  13. Dotty owns a B&B and gets to know the guests in different ways.  Why does she feel used by Shelby and her husband yet endeared to Charlie?
  14. Annie feels a closeness with and upon understanding her father better.  Explain this.

Top Ten Tuesday: Butterfly Covers

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme created by the Broke and the Bookish.  Today’s meme is Cover Story.  My theme is butterfly covers.  What is the symbolic meaning of butterflies?  It is widely viewed as a symbol of personal transformation, freedom from previous struggles, renewal and hope (according to reference.com.) The black butterfly is often viewed as a symbol of bad luck and in some cultures, a harbinger of death.  In some cultures, the butterfly is seen as the personification of a person’s soul, whether they are alive, dying or dead.  Can you think of any other book covers with butterflies on the cover?

  1.  Still Alice by Lisa Genova – a novel about a woman who develops early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
  2. Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey – a quirky and witty novel about a translator who travels to Brazil to find the writer whose work she translates, who has mysteriously disappeared.  Emma, the translator, undergoes a transformation herself during this process. 
  3. In the Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez – Set during the Trujillo dictatorship, this novel tells the story of the Mirabal sisters (the butterflies), three young wives and mothers who are assassinated after visiting their jailed husbands.
  4. Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen – a book about the change in a woman’s life after muttering a couple of forbidden words on air on one of the country’s highest rated morning talk shows.
  5. The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman -a small town librarian is struck by lighting and her boring life immediately become more exciting.
  6. Emma by Jane Austen – a timeless comedy of manners set in Regency England.  Emma, determined to arrange marriages for her friends while avoiding one for herself, finally meets her match in Mr. Knightley.
  7. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque – Paul is a German soldier on the Western Front who confronts the death of his friends, his enemies, as well as a previous way of life and life view. 
  8. The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allen Poe – a short detective story that uses rational thought to solve a crime.
  9. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris – A killer is on the loose and being investigated by a rookie.  The only man who can help is locked away in an asylum.  He is willing to aid the investigation if it will help him escape.
  10. Winter Garden by Kristen Hannah – Two sisters learn the truth about their mother’s past as their father lies on his deathbed, changing their feelings about their own identity.

 

“Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” by J.D. Vance

Pages:  272

Published:  June 28th, 2016

Awards:  Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Memoir and Autobiography;  New York Times #1 Bestseller; Named by The Times as “One of six books to help understand Trump’s win”

Format:  E-book

 

This is a memoir from the point of view of a “hillbilly”  growing up in the Rust Belt of America.  He is an anomaly of sorts in that he was able to escape the circumstances of  his past and become such a success story.  His mother was an addict and abusive.  He, as a child, was a victim of her abuse.  She had a rotation of husbands and boyfriends continuously entering and leaving their lives.  Despite this, he was able to move on.  After high school, he joined the marines and served in Iraq.  Then, he went on to Ohio State and Yale Law School.  His story drew me in right away.  He tells his story through this lens:  “…for those of us lucky enough to live the American Dream, the demons of the life we left behind continue to chase us.”

He tells his own life story alongside statistics and study data of the area, its people and culture at large.  I found this a fascinating read from a voice in a corner of the world we do not often hear from.  It provides certain insights and offers plenty of discussion points.  It is incredible that he had the resilience of character combined with the alignment of certain factors that gave him the will and drive to succeed as he did.  He comes across with great humility attributing his success to these factors that did align in the right way for him.  He could have just as easily, perhaps more easily fallen into a life of addiction and poverty.

Mamaw is a crucial supporter for J.D. Vance and a relentless voice encouraging him to be more, to think bigger for himself.  Mamaw and Papaw had moved to Ohio for factory jobs from southeastern Kentucky alongside so many others.  There is a reference to Dwight Yokam’s song “Reading, Rightin’, Rt. 23” and how relatable this was to Mamaw as well as much of Appalachia at that time.  When J.D.’s mother and aunt were growing up, Papaw was an alcoholic and the relationship between the parents was stormy, even violent at times.  Mamaw eventually kicked Papaw out and becomes a guiding force and bright light for J.D. as well as for many other of her grandchildren and great grandchildren, even though this stability was not provided for her own children. Papaw serves as her sidekick, still living in his separate house, sober now.

There is a fair amount of discussion within the book about how Appalachia and the South went from firmly Democratic to firmly Republican in less than a generation.   According to this book, there was a perceived unfairness to unemployment checks, whereby those not working would seem to actually have more luxuries, like cell phones, than those who were working hard.  Also, in the realm of housing, people could live in Section 8 housing with help from the government and be neighbors to others who are paying their full share.  Obama was apparantly unpalatable to the hillbilly people because he was so educated and spoke so differently from them.  They did not feel they could relate to him.  Oh, and maybe there was some racism involved too (but this point was strangely mentioned almost as an afterthought.)  This is a class of people, strongly united in their identity, but left feeling hopeless and disenfranchised with the loss of industry where they were previously employed.

This culture of blue collar worker with their tight knit community has higher than average levels of drug and alcohol dependence, divorce, and poverty.  The children of this community are less likely to go on to college.  The men are more likely not to work.  Those that do go off to college are unlikely to come back to their home towns.  Thus, there occurs a  phenomenon referred to as “brain drain.”  This cycle is self perpetuating and reinforcing.  It is “a culture of social decay” as J.D. Vance puts it.  There is also a “learned helplessness, ” in other words, a feeling that there is nothing these people can do to change their own circumstances.

Politically, this book is very interesting.  J.D. Vance blames the hillbilly culture for their own situation.  He believes in hard work and personal responsibility despite hardships.  His views are very conservative.

J.D. Vance is a venture capitalist in Ohio hoping to give back to the community he came from.  I will be very interested in seeing how he does give back, especially after painting such a bleak outlook for the potentiality of a solution to the problems faced by these people.  He does say that the one thing he’d most like to change about the white working class is “the feeling that our choices don’t matter.”  With his law background, it will be interesting to see if he decides to jump into politics at some point.  He certainly seems interested in public policy, although skeptical of the magic bandaid.  This is an interesting, thought provoking book providing insight into a region, a class of people, as well as a pivotal period in history.

J.D. & Mamaw                               J.D. Vance

 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Do you feel that you learned more about the culture of Appalacia through this novel?  Do you feel it was accurately portrayed?  Why might some people in Appalacia take issue with this novel?
  2. Discuss the guiding forces in J.D. Vance’s life that allowed him to succeed.  Discuss the role of the military in shaping his perspective and work ethic.
  3. Discuss the psychological effects of J.D.’s background on his current personal life.
  4. Why is social capital important?  How does this change for the author through his life?
  5. How would you describe J.D. Vance’s political views?  If he were a politician, who policy changes would he lobby for?
  6. Explain this “learned helplessness” that J.D. Vance talks about.
  7. Why would Donald Trump as a presidential candidate appeal to this group of people?  What do you think they hope from him?
  8. Discuss Vance’s feeling of dislocation upon graduating from Yale. How does he come to terms with them or does he?
  9. Towards the end of the book, Vance asks himself, “How much is Mom’s life her own fault?  Where does blame stop and sympathy begin?”  What are your thoughts?
  10. Do you think this book would have received so much attention had it not been an election year?  … had Trump not been a candidate?
  11. What does this book say about the American Dream?  Where and for whom is this dream alive?  Where has it died?
  12. Did you feel that that J.D. Vance was blaming the victim as many of his critics have complained?

 

 

Review by Jennifer Senior in the NY Times

Review by Joshua Rothman in The New Yorker

Discussion Questions by LitLovers

Ron Dreher’s interview with J.D. Vance in The American Conservative

 

 

 

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