Reader's Link - November 2009 Staff Picks Archive

Worth unearthing

A unit of water, a unit of time: Joel White's last boat

Title: A unit of water, a unit of time: Joel White's last boat
By: Douglas Whynott

You’re not likely to stumble upon this gem unless you’re given to browsing technical tomes on boat construction. But oh, how lucky you’d be! This engrossing portrait of a cranky, brilliant craftsman racing against terminal illness is also a family saga: master wooden boat builder Joel White was the son of E.B. White. (Imagine asking your daddy to tell you a story, and hearing a first draft of Charlotte’s Web or Stuart Little.)

View similarly tagged posts: non-fiction
Posted on Nov. 30, 2009 at 7:09 a.m.

The Summer Everything Changed

Out Stealing Horses

Title: Out Stealing Horses
By: Per Petterson

The beautiful, spare prose of this short novel helps create an atmosphere and characters that will be remembered long after the last page has been turned. Set in Norway, the story moves back and forth in time--from the summer of 1948 to the present. The narrator, aging widower Trond Sander, has recently moved from Oslo to a small, isolated cabin. But it is his memories of another cabin--and a now distant summer--that become the focal point of the story. This is a book about loneliness and relationships, about the passage of time and change, and it reminds us again and again that we can never completely know the people around us (or even ourselves). In Petterson's words: "People like it when you tell them things, in suitable portions, in a modest, intimate tone, and they think they know you, but they do not, they know about you, for what they are let in on are facts, not feelings, not what your opinion is about anything at all, not how what has happened to you and how all the decisions you have made have turned you into who you are." A haunting, beautiful read.

View similarly tagged posts: fiction
Posted on Nov. 20, 2009 at 12:18 a.m.

Tale of Two Sisters

Shanghai Girls

Title: Shanghai Girls
By: Lisa See

Sometimes I think I am the only person who didn't enjoy Lisa See's earlier novel Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. For this reason I was reluctant to try Shanghai Girls, but I found myself with a copy in my hands and decided to give it a chance. I'm glad I did! Approximately five pages in, I was immersed in the story and could barely come up for air. During the days when I wasn't able to read, I found myself daydreaming about sisters Pearl and May. The sisters lived with their well to do parents and worked as "beautiful girls" in 1930s Shanghai. They bought new dresses every week and had servants to cook and clean for them -- until their father admitted that he gambled away their money and was in debt. To pay off this debt, he promised his daughters as wives to two Chinese American men. Although Pearl and May try to escape their fate, the invasion of the Japanese turns their arranged marriage into an opportunity to flee China. Their voyage to California is horrific, and they find life in Los Angeles and "Haolaiwu" much different than they had hoped, but their perseverance and endurance of physical and mental agony is great. See has an amazing capability to transform what might be an ordinary scene into a delectable experience for the reader. This book leaves me with a new interest in the experiences of Chinese Americans during WWII and the Red Scare.

View similarly tagged posts: fiction
Posted on Nov. 1, 2009 at 9:58 a.m.

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