FIRST BOOK OF 2021

I had started this book last week but saved it to be the first book of 2021 I read.
Rupi Kaur has become the favorite poet of many young women, worldwide.

This is a book I have copied many poems into my Quote Notebook from, even making a poorly-executed copy of her illustrations:

Not only is Kaur a spokeswomen for young women everywhere, she is old beyond her years in advice and thought. I first heard of her in a review from Hooked on Books’ Jee Wan, who was very impressed by this poet. Jee is an excellent poet herself, so I ordered a copy to form my own opinion. Impressed is a mild word to describe my reaction to Kaur’s poems–they are spot-on, often dealing with darker things women might not want to reflect on. But there is hope as well, always hope, offered in this slender volume.

Two more poems from this collection that “spoke” to me are here:

‘you might have done

the external work

but your mind is starving

for internal attention

listen”

and…

“not everything you do has to be self-improving

you are not a machine

you are a person

without rest

your work can never be full

without play your mind can never be nourished

balance”

In an effort to read more poetry, I plan to start January with a book of poems and continue to read at least one collection each month. As slow as I read poetry ( because I tend to slow down to digest it), it will take me all month to read each collection.

Join me in this celebration of poetry and what it can do for us in 2021 if you wish.

Sunday (Evening) Post

What I enjoyed this past week: Visiting with friends as I borrowed a coffee pot and card tables and chairs in preparation for yesterday’s brunch.  Having coffee and forgotten cookies (70’s recipe to go with the 60’s percolator coffee pot) with my class  Wednesday as they let their rough drafts for final papers “percolate” in their subconscious for a week and used the first hour of class to peer critique each other’s rough drafts. A necessities shopping trip Saturday with a big enough investment to call it my birthday present. And, the AAUW November brunch, here, Saturday.

The first people arrived at 9:30 and helped set up.  I provided turkey and dressing casserole, and another friend brought sweet potatoes and cranberry/orange relish.  A third friend brought a lovely veggie tray with dip and a fruit plate.  Cookies from Aldi’s (think Sam’s Club) was the assortment accompanied by four kinds of coffee and made a nice, light dessert.  Afterwards, we packed toiletries overnight kits for the Women’s Shelter and although I do not know what the “count” was, it took three shopping bags and two large plastic bags to carry all the “kits” to the delivery lady’s car. The last two guests who were “catching up” did not leave until nearly three, providing a “cool-down” for me. Sunday School this morning put last week in perspective and gave me hope for the week ahead.

What I am looking forward to this coming week: Finishing A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, and hopefully reviewing it as well. The tree man coming to remove a pear tree that has never produced a single pear and has lovely blossoms that I am sure are a nuisance to both back and side neighbors’ pools, and the same tree man  trimming the broken branches of the Mungo Pines in the front yard.  I spent a good forty minutes this afternoon harvesting the mini-pinecones and some pieces of greenery before the tree men take the broken limbs away. I will be the most popular supplier of pinecones for the coming Thanksgiving table turkeys and for the Christmas brandy snifters filled with mini-pinecones for the upcoming Christmas season.  A birthday coffee for a girlfriend who will be 82 and who deserves a fete in her honor.  It will be a small group–seven counting me–but the house is already clean, so why not kill two birds with one cleaning? Class Wednesday where final papers will be turned in and some time after the students leave, I’ll remain to get a head start on grading them. A friend’s retirement party as head librarian at the local library, and since our Third Tuesday book club has already given her a party, I don’t have to bake or bring anything!

It promises to be a good week!

The Thoughtful Dresser: A Review

This is a 2009 publication by Linda Grant that, like classic clothes, will never go out of style.  It is a history of clothes, as well as “…a thinking woman’s guide on what to wear.” It deals with such concepts as “how we dress defines who we are…” in a sometimes humorous, sometimes serious manner.

The first chapter, “In Which a Woman Buys a Pair of Shoes” immediately draws the reader’s interest (What woman isn’t interested in shoes?), and the fifth chapter which struggles and attempts to define “sexy” when it comes to clothes continues to keep us turning pages.  Ms. Grant, who writes for Vogue, among other things (such as being a prize winning novelist and journalist) deals with “The art of adornment, the pleasures of shopping, and why clothes matter” in a most engaging way.

Catherine Hill appears three times in the book as a holocaust survivor whose hat saves her from the gas chamber, a fashion designer in Canada, and an ageless fashionista who is interviewed several times by the author.  She, according to the author, “IS fashion” and is “great reading” for this reviewer.

Linda Grant views clothes as “the most intimate but public expression of our identity,” a topic I’ve never considered,and in doing so has become an author I want to read more of.

A POTENTIAL BESTSELLER, THE AFTER PARTY by Anton Disclafani

Houston in all of its fifties glory–the heat and sun of Houston summers–River Oaks, The Shamrock, and the “…world of garden clubs and debutante balls”–is as much a character in this new (2016 publication) novel by the author of The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, as are Joan and Cece, the unforgettable main characters of The After Party.

Joan Fortier, “…the epitome of Texas glamor and the center of the Houston social scene…” and CeCe, her plain best friend and their strange friendship are at the heart of this novel. Joan is tall blonde and beautiful, everything CeCe is not, but CeCe is loyal and the only one who understands Joan (and the only one who will defend her to her critics).  It is the story of women’s friendships, family secrets and relationships, as well as women’s lack of power and status in the 1950’s.  In Houston, the “money flows as freely as oil, and the author who is an excellent story teller brings together “flawed characters worth knowing”and  involves the reader in the story of the novel as well as the intertwined stories of the two girls’ lives.

I considered it a good investment of my reading time.

BELOVED MESS: A Review

Beloved Mess by Kimm Crandall is a 2016 inspirational book that my church librarian was kind enough to order for our library at my recommendation.  I had read about the book, and it sounded like something that would help me in my day-to-day Christian walk. As the cover’s blurb said, it is “…funny, arresting, radical, and best of all, true.”

The author confesses to being a big mess.  In some ways, the book itself is a mess, but the author reminds us that by God’s grace, the messes are “beloved.”

The book is encouraging for people who have experienced depression and feel they are not good Christians or even good people because they do have these feelings.  Crandall points to our weaknesses, which are ok because we have “Christ who strengthens us.”  We are not strong, but because He is, it is ok.

Another jacket blurb points out, “God is not waiting for you to clean up your act before you come home to Him.  In fact, He wants you to stop trying to fix the mess and allow Him to wash it away.”

In all the messiness of life and the messes we get ourselves into, the author consistently reminds us that we and our messes are beloved by our Heavenly Father.

 

REVIEW: The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis (2016)

A friend from book club told me her daughter had written her first novel, and as a “collector”of debut novels, I was immediately interested.  I had to wait a couple of months for the book to come out for sale, but the novel was well worth waiting for!

It is the story of the Barbizon , a “proper” and safe hotel, a “suitable” residence for young women searching for fame, careers, and husbands in New York City.  The Dollhouse is set in (and chapters alternate between) the 1950’s and 2016.  It is the  story of Darby (and Sam and Esme, her new friends) in 1950.  Darby is a student at The Gibbs Secretarial School, a “plain girl” hosteled on then same floor of the Glamorous Ford Agency models.

In 2016, Rose, also a Barbizon girl, is employed as a journalist and has a tinge of scandal of her own. Her lover, Griffin, who has political aspirations and Jason, a photographer who helps Rose investigate Darby’s scandal and mystery, also appear in the story.

But, most of all it is the story of The Barbizon .

For me, this was a fascinating read, a real page turner which reveals its mystery  like the peeling of the layers of the cliched onion. I would give this fantastic novel a 5 out of 5 rating .

VINEGAR GIRL by Anne Tyler

Tyler’s retelling of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew ,commissioned by the Hogarth Shakespeare project, is an outstanding true-to-the-spirit-of-things farce that is light, amusing and heart warming–all at the same time.  The author must have had fun writing it, and I certainly had fun reading it. Characters are excellently drawn and are much more than stereotypes or flat characters.

Of course if one is familiar with the Shakespeare play, the twists and turns are expected rather than unexpected, but the way Tyler arrives at them is original and very refreshingly creative.

The bard himself would give a Mona Lisa smile upon reading. One stayed on my face the entire time I spent on this quick and satisfying read.

THE GIRL WHO WROTE LONLINESS by Kyung Sook Shin: A Review

I have been blogging more here of late because I have been finishing up several books, reading three or more at the same time. I found the Korean author, Kyung Sook Shin (translated into English by Ha-Yun Jung), purely by chance.  Her 2015 novel based on facts was on a large print display at my local library, and the artful cover intrigued me.

Themes dealt with in the novel include: hardships and poverty, desire for an education and bettering oneself and one’s lot in life, family loyalty, with touches of dealing with depression and loneliness.

A young girl is sent from her farm to Seul  to work in a sweatshop in the TV, stereo factories of the 1979’s.  She is trained for a conveyor- belt- assembly- line- job which is incredibly boring and physically punishing.  It is the times of unionizing factories in Seul and a story of  the persecution and horror the union members endured.  It is political, but told from the point of view of one who does not understand  what is taking place.

The word choices, phrasing, and writing in general, is poetic in places, often either brutal or beautiful.  It took me a few pages to get acclimated to the “voice” of the narrator because the grammar rules etc. followed Korean conventions. Like any book translated from another language, the novel has an initial moment of “getting used to.”  It is a wise investment of your reading time and carries you along with expert characterization and plot.

Review of Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth

As advertised on the cover, Call the Midwife is “a memoir of birth, joy, and hard times.” As a fan of the PBS series since its inception, I hesitated to read the original journal on which this true story is built.  After all, you can’t improve on perfection, can you?  Maybe you can.

The three books were “assigned” at our Third Tuesday Book Club at the Alvin, TX ,public library. I volunteered to read the first book, to be sure someone had read each of the three books in the set. I was surprised at the amount of “extra” material that was not detailed in the PBS series.  The history of British Midwifery in the introduction was instructive, and the writer’s stories/anecdotes were “better than TV.”

Some of the details were graphic, and in a few cases, I preferred the “cleaned up” version I had seen on TV.  There is humor, tragedy, great joy, and proves the saying, “Every child is a gift from God.” I will probably skip the second book which deals with the Workhouse,  but I will definitely read the third book, which has a lot of humor as society “progresses” into the sixties, a nostalgic time for me.

Review of The Cradle by Patrick Sommerville

This novel was recommended as “a novel that comforts,” and it certainly lives up to that.  The Chicago author, with a reputation as a short story writer, tries his hand with his debut novel.  I love “collecting” debut novels and was able to find this 2009 publication at 1/2 Price Books.

Any author who selects his idea/title from the beginning of a Walt Whitman poem already earns an “excellent” rating as far as I’m concerned.

And then, the “read” itself…mystery,real love, trying times, and the quest/journey to find the cradle are handled well. What “happens” in the novel is unpredictable and avoids being “formulaic.”  The author keeps his reader turning the pages with expectation and curiosity to see what happens next. Secrets are revealed, interesting people make appearances, and “connections” and serendipity abound.  It is a good “read.”

I give the novel a 4 1/2 out of 5 for its ingenuity and the way the reader feels when she finishes it.