Books Read in October

Happy Halloween!!

“Bill Moyers Journal- the Conversation Continues” by Bill Moyers

As the French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville came off the boat in New York in 1831 to begin his famous tour of the fledgling America, he was greeted with tumult.

Through a series of engaging and though-provoking interviews with some of the greatest thinkers of our time, Bill Moyers explores the current tumult we find ourselves in the middle of. He speaks with a wide range of people from diverse backgrounds, cultures, political views including Jon Stewart, Karen Armstrong, Jane Goodall and a host of others. The interviews covered everything from politics to poetry, from healthcare to race and they opened my mind to new ideas. At times it was overwhelming to read of all the tough, tough issues we face that seem, at times, insurmountable. But then you read of people who are making a difference and that feeling of being overwhelmed gives way to hope which is exactly what we need. Hope that leads to action that makes a difference.

What I learned: That to address any problem nationwide means that the first issue that needs to be fixed is getting big money out of politics.

“Neighborhood Watch” a novel by Cammie McGovern

Violence in the suburbs is not accompanied by the sounds we associate it within cities.

Betsy Treading, a librarian, is released from prison after serving twelve years when DNA proof reveals that she could not have been the one to bludgeon her neighbor to death. Betsy returns to her old neighborhood wanting to not only create a life for herself but to also uncover the truth of who killed Linda Sue Murphy. We meet the odd assortment of neighbors, one of whom  may hold the key to unlocking the mystery of that night, a night that is clouded by Betsy’s unreliable memory.

 What I learned: That it is important in plot to raise as many questions as you answer as the narrative unfolds.

“Where She Went” a YA novel by Gayle Foreman

Every morning I wake up and I tell myself this: It’s just one day, one twenty-four hour period to get yourself through.

If you haven’t read Foreman’s “If I Stay” I have two things to say: 1. Go read it. and 2. Spoiler alert ahead.

Okay, so “Where She Went” picks up after ‘If I Stay Ends.”  It tells the story from Adam’s point of view three years after his girlfriend Mia barely survived a car crash that killed the rest of her family. The first novel was much more ephemeral as it took place from the point of view of Mia in a coma, straddling two worlds while she decided if she should stay or not.  She decided to stay and now we hear from her boyfriend Adam who is now a rock star, pretty disillusioned with fame and the whole business of music. He runs into Mia who is still playing the cello with the same passion he remembered and they spend a brief day together, attempting to piece together their past and perhaps, their future.

What I learned: That weaving snippets of lyrics can really reveal a character and would be quite fun to write.

“The Twelfth Insight” a novel by James Redfield

I turned onto the freeway and hit cruise control, trying to ease up a bit.

Told in the form of a modern parable, Redfield  brings his unique spiritual perspective to the areas of political corruption, financial instability and global religious tensions. Sound familiar? I think that’s why I was drawn to it when I saw it on the new-books shelf at the library. I had read his earlier works but nothing recent.  The key to moving beyond our current conflicts lies in the power of synchronicity and aligning ourselves with our spiritual purpose. It is fiction but the issues are real and he believes his solutions to those conflicts are real. At times it felt a little too New Agey for me but I certainly admire his passion in getting out the message he believes will help  our world.

What I learned: That it is essential to write from your passion.

“The Uncoupling” a novel by Meg Wolitzer

People like to warn you that by the time you reach the middle of your life, passion will begin to feel like a meal eaten long ago, which you remember with great tenderness.

A new drama teacher arrives and chooses to produce “Lysistrata” for the school play, a comedy in which women stop having sex with men in order to end a war. This sets in motion an odd spell that seems to envelop the town, affecting both students and adults. We are offered rare glimpses into the inner workings of relationships before the spell then afterwards as girls and women turn away from their men.  It was really spellbinding read, which seems appropriate.

 What I learned: That it would be an interesting exercise to take an old play or story and find a way to bring it into the modern world as Wolitzer did. It seemed as though she had great fun writing it.

One Hundred Names for Love- A Stroke, A Marriage, and the Language of Healing” by Diane Ackerman

 Trailing plastic tubes, Paul made his way across the room, steeped in twilight, and I was struck by how the body sometimes looks like the sea creature it is, a jellyfish with long tentacles, not really a fish at all but a gelatinous animal full of hidden symmetries, as well as lagoons and sewers, and lots of spongy and stringy bits.

I loved loved loved this book. Her writing is just exquisite.  It’s a love story on so many levels: between husband and wife; caregiver and patient; between language and a debilitating stroke; between creativity and passion. After a devastating stroke that destroys his language centers (unthinkable to a writer and his writer wife) Diane Ackerman and Paul West embark on a journey of healing. Branching away from conventional therapy, Ackerman designs a program that involves flooding her husband with language for many, many hours a day, even if it’s just having long conversations while floating in a pool. When she asks him if he is interested in writing the first aphasiac novel or memoir, she sees a light in his eyes again. The results are astounding and should give hope to stroke patients and their caregivers everywhere.

What I learned: That having a passion for something, anything is crucial to living a full life and critical for healing a broken one whether broken from a physical ailment or an emotional one.

 “This Beautiful Life” a novel by Helen Schulman

Her mouth filled the screen. Purple lip gloss, clear braces.

In this age of instant technology, every parent and teen and pre-teen should read this book. After fifteen-year-old Jake is sent an unsolicited, sexually explicit video from a local girl. he forwards it to his best friend. Soon it is splashed across the web, around the world. What should the consequences be and for whom? The girl who made and sent it? Or the boy who forwarded it? or the many people who took it from there? The novel raises issues of privacy, ethics, morals and parenting in the modern age. Couldn’t put it down.

What I learned: Schulman does a great job of weaving in currents scenes with the thoughts of the characters. We get to know each one deeply through both their thoughts and actions.

“Fiction Ruined My Family” a memoir by Jeanne Darst

Writers talk a lot about how tough they have it – what with the excessive drinking and three-hour workday and philandering and constant borrowing of money from people they-re so much better than.

Darst is the youngest of four girls. Their mother is an alcoholic-depressive and their dad is an alcoholic- wanna-be –writer. Darst seems to be the only one of her siblings to inherit the drinking problem as well as the writing one. She struggles with both, wondering if you can have one without the other. The writing is honest and, at times, laugh out loud funny.

What I learned: That it is possible to portray family with humor and honesty, revealing both their beauty and flaws if viewed through the prism of compassion.







4 thoughts on “Books Read in October

  1. What an interesting array of reading and some fine recommendations as well.

    When I saw the first quote I though for a minute you had actually been able to read Peter Carey’s ‘Parrot and Olivier in America’ which I struggled to get past the first few chapters.

    Always tempted by a book that a reader uses the word love three times to describe!

  2. I am in the middle of a book I am not loving, but I have gone this far, these look work a gander. I am hankering for something meaty and wonderful. You know the sort of book that just pulls you in and there is nothing else…

  3. I’m quite interested in reading ‘Fiction Ruined My Family.’ =) I’m currently reading Joyce Carol Oates’s BLONDE and Shel Silverstein’s WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS.

    Have been reading these two for quite a while cos I’m a slow reader.

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