Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Book Reviews

I've been meaning to do some more book reviews, but then I looked at my Goodreads account to remind myself what all I've read recently and got overwhelmed.  It would appear that I read too much.   (KIDDING.  That's not possible.)  Soon enough, though, I realized I don't have to tell you about all the books I've read ('cause I'm smart, see), and decided that anything I gave three stars or fewer on Goodreads wouldn't get a mention on here.

And now I'm thinking you really don't need any of the information in the above paragraph.  I could have just started straight off with the book reviews.  I refuse to devote any more mental energy to this, however, so it's staying.

Education of a Wandering Man:  A Memoir by Louis L'Amour

 Okay, so first off, this graphic is bothering me- just know that my copy of this book is blue and silver and not-ugly, and is only fuzzy when I'm not wearing my glasses, although then it's more of a blueish blob, because I have truly terrible vision.  (Gracious.  Apologies for my unchecked garrulousness today.)
I doubt I would ever have picked this book up on my own, but a lady from my book club brought it one day recommending I read it, and because we have similar taste in books (totally unrelated side note: she has excellent taste), I decided to do as she said and read it.
Like many of you, I grew up in a house full of books, including one entire shelf full of brown leather-bound volumes whose titles were gold-foiled:  The novels of Louis L'Amour.  As it turns out, he lead a fascinating life before he was ever even published:  sailor, mine caretaker, boxer, self-proclaimed hobo, all before and during the depression.  As he puts it:  "Over the years the terms applied to wanderers have been confused until all meaning has been lost.  To begin with, a bum was a local man who did not want to work.  A tramp was a wanderer of the same kind, but a hobo was a wandering worker and essential to the nation's economy."  The tales of his travels and his impeccable memory of the books he was constantly reading throughout make me feel both lazy and ignorant, but in a good way, somehow; a way that makes me want to get off this couch and do something, for Pete's sake.
As with most nonfiction, I had the insatiable urge to write in the margins of the text; but as this is not actually my book and I am not a heathen, I wrote on little scraps of paper every time I was struck by something or other he said.  As such, the book looks like it's been hit by a Post-It plague.  A few things I evidently felt were worth writing down:  "It is constantly reiterated that education begins in the home, as indeed it does, but what is often forgotten is that morality begins in the home also.  It also begins in the car seat, where many a budding criminal career is born when the child not only watches his parent repeatedly breaking traffic laws, but hears him lie about it when caught.  The example is not, supposedly, expected to influence the child (p 4)."  "We do not at present educate people to think but, rather, to have opinions, and that is something altogether different (p 75)."  "Look up Stephen Vincent Benet"  (I still haven't done that one.)  I highly recommend this one, both as a wonderful memoir and a commentary on a vanished way of life.

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

The Family Fang is the book to read if you want to laugh and feel better about your own crazy family.  It will also make you want to call your siblings, those fellow veterans of that little episode known as "childhood."  It's told from the perspective of an adult brother and sister whose parents were performance artists.  As children, these siblings were roped into every wackadoodle scheme posing as "art" their parents could dream up.  I've never read anything by Wilson before, but based on this book alone, I'd say he has the gift of creating characters that evoke incredible emotions; I rarely love or hate characters the way I did those inhabiting this story.  I even felt the urge to write my thoughts down in the margins of this one, and it's fiction!  Although I own this book (raise your hand if you love the book section at Goodwill of insanely cheap books!), for some reason I can't quite make myself scribble in the margins of novels.  Nonfiction, sure, that's just commentary on things that have happened, the world we live in, etc, and why shouldn't I add my own opinion to those already on the page?  Whereas with fiction, we're talking about a created world, an alternate reality contained within the ink and paper, and to sully that with asterisks and scribbles that don't belong, I would be forcibly breaking the spell cast by the author, and I like to think my ego will never be so big as to make me that bold.   So let's see, what do these little post-its stuck in here say... (it's always strange for me to look through my bookcases and find books littered with Post-Its, reading whatever thoughts I had while reading and felt were important enough to write down)... "It is so hard, so hard to find fiction that manages to voice those truths that strike you right down to the bone but are at the same time utterly without pretension, and, in the case of modern fiction, also completely lacking anything like light or hope."  Huh.  I guess I really liked this book.  So yes, I do recommend this one, but with the caveat that it's... PG-13, maybe?  There's a little cursing, and my gosh, do the characters make some questionable decisions that make you stop reading and lay the book open on the top of your head so that some of your good judgment will for once seep out of your brain and into the plot of the story.  This has yet to happen, but I keep trying.

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

When I first saw the cover of this book, my first thought was, Oh, great.  More vampires.  But I was wrong!  Not vampires, but yellow fever!  Huz...zah?  The protagonist is Mattie Cook, a sixteen-year-old girl who lives with her mother in an apartment above their coffee shop in 1793 Philadelphia.  She tends the garden in their tiny backyard, runs to the market for her mom, helps run the coffee shop, banters with her beloved grandfather, generally living a fairly average life for an eighteenth century working-class city girl- then the yellow fever epidemic hits.  Loved ones become ill.  Food becomes scarce as farmers surrounding Philadelphia refuse to enter the sick city. Her courage is tested.  I loved every piece of this book:  the setting, the simultaneously vulnerable and strong heroine, the reminder that we're ridiculously lucky to be living a 21st century life.  Please read this book, then rip The Selection or whatever other trash your daughter is currently reading out of her hands and replace it with this book.

More books tomorrow, and I promise to do a better job of staying on-topic.  (And if you believe that, you must be new around here.)


  1. I just finished reading 7. I would love to have a book chat with you while our children play on my playset!! :0) Let me know when you are free.

  2. I'm so glad you enjoyed The Education of a Wandering Man! I liked it so much I wrote at least two and maybe three posts prompted by my reading of it. (It's been a few years ago now) He was such an interesting man, and I loved life-long learner attitude.

    The Family Fang looks like a fun read!

  3. btw, I enjoy your tangents. ;)


Studies show that that people who leave comments are kind, intelligent, generous, creative, and have really nice hair.