Favorite Quotes

"In a very real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read. It is not true that we have only one life to lead; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish. "


— S.I. Hayakawa

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Eye-opening

Prairie Fires: the American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Title: Prairie Fires: the American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder
By: Caroline Fraser

If you grew up like me, reading and re-reading the Little House books, you may find this book as fascinating as I did. Caroline Fraser has meticulously researched Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life, her writing, and that of her daughter Rose Wilder Lane (an important Libertarian). It turns out that the farm pioneer life as described in the iconic Little House series was a tad gilded. Laura’s actual life was even harder than depicted in the children's books. Although the books were described as autobiographical, Wilder modified parts of her childhood and youth or avoided them altogether in the retelling, which she began writing in her sixties. Her daughter Rose, a professional writer, did a lot of editing of her mother’s writing, and sometimes introduced nonfactual material to make the story more exciting.

Fraser does an excellent job of situating Laura and Rose in their historical, economic, and political times. I came away with an appreciation of the tremendous struggle Laura and her family made to succeed at small farming. Often they failed, and had to move on. Each failure was the death of a dream that this farm, this special place would continue to be their home. While I am sorry to learn that the “true” stories were a bit fictionalized, it is eye-opening to see them placed in context, and it makes a kind of sense that Wilder wanted to re-envision her past in a more positive light. (Ironically, writing about these early experiences proved to be far more financially rewarding for her than the farming.)

The book deservedly won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Biography.

View similarly tagged posts: biography
Posted by April on Oct. 14, 2018 at 8:40 a.m.
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Hair-raising

Educated: a memoir

Title: Educated: a memoir
By: Tara Westover

“I wanted to get away from the junkyard and there was only one way to do that, which was the way Audrey had done it; by getting a job so I wouldn’t be at the house when Dad rounded up his crew. The trouble was, I was eleven.”

It’s hard to believe that there were still families in the U.S. that didn’t send their children to school or to doctors in the 1990’s, but when Tara Westover was growing up in Idaho, the reigning paradigm in her family was that the government can’t be trusted. They did everything possible to avoid public notice and to be self-reliant. Her father ran a junkyard with prodigious feats of endurance and sometimes reckless use of machinery. Her mother practiced midwifery and prepared herbal medicines with a high degree of skill. With some of her earnings, she put in a phone line at their house.

“One day a white van appeared, and a handful of men in dark overalls began climbing over the utility poles by the highway. Dad burst through the back door demanding to know what the hell was going on. ‘I thought you wanted a phone,’ Mother said, her eyes so full of surprise they were irreproachable. She went on, talking fast. ‘You said there could be trouble if someone goes into labor and Grandma isn’t home to take the call. I thought, He’s right, we need a phone! Silly me! Did I misunderstand?’ Dad stood there for several seconds, his mouth open. Of course a midwife needs a phone, he said. Then he went back to the junkyard and that’s all that was ever said about it.”

I stayed up all night reading this memoir; it was hair-raising. I was entirely engaged by it--in part because it made me so very angry to learn about some of Tara’s experiences. It could have been unbearable to read but for the very fact of the book, which meant she survived. She was one of three siblings who went to college and completed graduate school. Her other four siblings left school with GEDs. Not surprisingly, this memoir also depicts what I can only call a cultural divide within a family, between a fundamentalist, self-reliant, isolationist stance and that of persons who have explored the larger society and have found benefits in mainstream education and interaction with a more diverse community.

View similarly tagged posts: biography
Posted by April on Oct. 14, 2018 at 8:40 a.m.
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Secrets...

The Diviners

Title: The Diviners
By: Libba Bray

New York City, 1926

After inadvertently causing a scandal back home in Ohio, Evie O’Neill is sent to New York to stay with her Uncle Will, who runs the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition and the Occult. While Evie is excited about coming to New York, seeing an old friend, and visiting speakeasies, she is uneasy about her uncle’s line of work. If Uncle Will looks closely enough, he might find out Evie’s secret, the real reason she was sent away from Ohio—Evie has the ability to “tell your secrets simply by holding an object dear to you and concentrating on it.” People with powers like Evie’s are known as Diviners. They are seen as both valuable and feared. Evie knows she can’t keep her secret from her uncle for long, especially after Will is called in by the police to help investigate a series of murders that may be tied to the occult. The investigation will show Evie the dark side of New York City and bring her together with people who are more like her than she ever could have imagined.

Something wicked this way comes.

View similarly tagged posts: teen fiction
Posted by pughc on Aug. 2, 2018 at 12:36 p.m.
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New boxes

Moonglow

Title: Moonglow
By: Michael Chabon

I listened to this book on CD and was so impressed with Michael Chabon’s semi-fictional memoir about his grandfather that I also read the book. While presented as a novel, it is based to some degree on his conversations with his grandfather and other family members, and is a fascinating view of 20th century American history. In this telling, his partly fictional grandfather was a talented engineer and imperfect man, extremely interested in rockets and space travel, who served in WW II. Following a stint in the OSS, he hunted for unexploded rockets in Europe for US intelligence. The infamous V-2 rocket, designed by Wernher von Braun, was of particular interest: as a rocket, it was a thing of beauty, but its beauty was perverted by its use as a weapon. “The poor bastard! He had built a ship to loft us to the very edge of heaven, and they had used it as a messenger of hell.”

In an interview in the L.A. Times, Chabon said, "one of the nonfictional bases for this book is that when my actual grandfather was dying, he was on heavy-duty painkillers. He did talk a lot, and his memory was activated in an interesting way, maybe by some combination of proximity to death and these painkillers. I'd heard a lot of his stories, but these things that he was remembering during this period when I was sitting with him right before he died were new, like new boxes had been brought down from the attic and opened up."

Above all the true and fictional storylines, the love Michael Chabon has for his grandfather flies high.

View similarly tagged posts: fiction, audiobook
Posted by April on June 9, 2018 at 8:31 a.m.
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Slippery slope

The Senility of Vladimir P.

Title: The Senility of Vladimir P.
By: Michael Honig

A fictional portrayal of Vladimir Putin in a future in which he develops dementia and is cared for at a private dacha by a principled yet naive nurse caregiver, Nicolai Sheremetev. We eavesdrop on Vladimir P.’s conversations with political cronies and enemies, which occur entirely in his mind. He is rarely lucid, often paranoid, and difficult to manage. Over time, Sheremetev learns that every staff person at the large dacha is on the take in one way or another, grafting off the quantities of food and services provided to run the operation. Eventually even the honest nurse himself is forced to commit a dastardly deed.

It’s not entirely accurate to say I loved reading this book. Really, I was appalled at the depth of corruption suggested. I must distinguish between a distaste for the situation and my intense appreciation of the writer’s skill. The slide down the slippery slope is so well-crafted by the author, and entirely topical. You could say this book asks the question: how might a leader, by his own example, ruin a country?

View similarly tagged posts: fiction
Posted by April on June 4, 2018 at 8:03 a.m.
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