RECENT READS

Here are brief reviews of two books I finished last week, both worth investing our precious reading time in:

Paper Hero,by Leon Hale, a local humorist and colorist, was a re-read and was originally an “assignment” for the Third Tuesday Book Club.  Wanting something “Christmassy” last Christmas, we all agreed we’d enjoyed Paper Hero enough to read Hale’s essays, collected under the title One Man’s Christmas.  This led me to  revisit  Paper Hero to remind myself of Hale’s childhood and journalism background, and I’m glad I made the journey.

Paper Hero,a memoir or autobiography starts out in Hale’s childhood.  It was during the depression, and Hale’s father was a traveling salesman, trying hard to feed his family.  Because of frequently getting laid off, Hale’s father moved his family around from rent house to rent house, frequently. Like many people during the depression, although the family lived in the city, they kept a cow and chickens, plus had a garden .  Early on Hale got a job throwing newspapers, thus the title, Paper Hero. His description of his college days (on a scholarship) describes him finding out what he was good at.  Like many young men of his era, WWII interrupted his life for several years. He was in combat and eventually was (before there was such a thing) an embedded Journalist for a paper.  He goes on to describe his earliest jobs at  the Houston Post, then at the Houston Chronicle, when the Post folded.  This is where our group had first met him, as a columnist whom we would never mis reading.  Once in a while he will still (He is in his 90s) write a guest column ,or the Chronicle will re-run one of his classic columns. His columns are hilarious at times and always warm and touching.  His autobiography is the same.

Jhumpa Lahiri is responsible for the fine film,The Namesake, so when I read about The Lowland,a National Book Award finalist published in 2013, I ordered a copy.  I was not disappointed.  Her novel tells (in her particularly beautiful storytelling style) the tale of two Indian brothers, born very close together and together in every undertaking whether it be mischief or scholarly pursuits. Subbhash, the elder is quiet, a serious scholar and totally apolitical.  Udayan, the younger, is rash, a risk taker, very political, and the favored son of the boys’  mother. While Subbash is studying  and teaching in America, Udayan, like many Indian students of the time, fights with a radical political party, taking dangerous assignments even though he has taken a wife, Gauri.  Udayan is executed, and against the wishes of his parents, Subbash weds Udayan’s pregnant wife and relocates her to Providence, RI.

Beautiful writing is present throughout this engrossing novel with the lowlands, “…dark, dank, weedy places that haunt out lives,” first in India, then in Providence, become  a metaphor for the lives of the characters as well as the plot of the novel.  It has been said of Lahiri, she “…spins the globe and comes full circle.” The twists and turns of the plot and the memorable characters she creates allow her to do just that in this fine novel.

COMING OF AGE IN MISSISSIPPI: A Review of a Classic

Coming of Age in Mississippi, written in 1968, still has a relevant message today:  Don’t forget the past. It is the “autobiography of growing up poor and black in the rural South.” The author, Anne Moody grew up in Mississippi during the forties, fifties and early sixties.  The book ends around 1963 or so, after the Kennedy assassination.  The book is divided into sections: Part I Childhood, Part II High School, Part III College, Part IV The Movement (which is, of course the Civil Rights Movement).  I would be “hard put” to pick the part I liked best, if “like” is even the appropriate word.  It is an unforgettable personal story and a coming of age story, taking Ms. Moody  from a young girl to a responsible, aware adult.

I enjoy reading about people who overcame great obstacles, and this is definitely such a story.  From an innocent, accepting child to a militant, questioning, mature young woman, Anne emerges as a witness to times we whites may have lived through but never understood both “sides” of. Her voice is true and powerful without condemning except where it is well deserved.

With books like The Help we get a picture of Mississippi in the early sixties, but with Moody’s  factual help, we learn what it was like to live through those times.  It is a book that is not outdated and well worth your reading time.