Thursday, February 19, 2009

From bookmobiles on camels to bookmobiles at Buckingham Palace, it's amazing the places books can take you. My latest suggestion is a lovely little book called An Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. This novella is the story of what happens when a British queen (never identified) stumbles upon a bookmobile on the grounds of her palace whilst walking her corgi dogs. She happens inside, meets a kitchen page who is an avid reader of novels by gay authors and has her entire world turned upside down. Really, this is a delightful book about the transformative power of the written word, both as it is read and as it is written. Funny, in a BBC drama sort of way, I highly recommend this book.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Funny how everything is connected, isn't it? I posted yesterday about Anne Rice and her vampire novels and, more recently, her historical fiction works about the life of Jesus the Christ. In the USA TODAY magazine that comes with my sunday paper, there was a little blurb about Rice in the "Who's News" section. It was posed as a sort of "Where are they now?" piece. Rice's vampire novels were discussed briefly, then her conversion to Christianity was mentioned and here is what Rice had to say about her conversion from atheist to Christ follower and it's impact on her literary work: "My present focus has to be on my novels about the life of Jesus Christ, and I do not want to revisit the realm of my earlier books". I just thought it was funny to blog about something a bit out of the current trend and then to have the same subject show up in mainstream media the next day. Fun!

Friday, February 13, 2009

When I was in high school, I loved Anne Rice's novels. All the gothic vampires and thinly veiled erotica was so much out of my everyday existence that I felt so dangerous, so exotic reading her words. I read as many of the books as I could find in the Cambrian branch of the San Jose Public Library and then forgot about them. Fast forward twenty-ish years and I find new Anne Rice novels on the shelves of the library, this time the Willow Glen branch (I moved). Imagine my surprise when I started reading the first one, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, and found that Rice had chosen to follow Jesus and was now dedicating this stage of her writing career to researching and writing historical fiction about Jesus the Christ. Huh. I read "Out of Egypt" which followed Jesus as a young child, leaving his Egyptian refuge and moving back to Nazareth. Not a bad piece of fiction, engaging and made me think for a bit about the humanness of Jesus of Nazareth. I'm pretty comfortable with the whole fully God thing, but the fully man part is something we don't cover so much in the Bible. I've always wondered what Jesus was like as a person. Who the funniest disciple was and if Mary every lost her temper with him when he reached that sassy 5 year old stage. The second book, Christ the Lord: Road to Cana, finds Jesus as an adult man who is under immense pressure from his family and village to get married. It's unseemly for a man his age to remain single. The narrative follows Jesus to the Jordan River, where he is baptized by his cousin John, into the wilderness for an amazing take on what the times of temptation could have looked like and finally, onto Cana where he performs his first miracle and thus begins his public ministry. Again, I say this is an interesting piece of fiction and is worth the read, no matter your stand on Jesus as Son of God, because Rice makes Jesus the main character, pretty darn interesting.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I've done it. I've found the missing link, the holy grail, area 51. I have found a book by Chris Bohjolian that has a male protagonist! Over and over in book club and in conversations with reading friends, we marvel over how Bohjolian writes so seamlessly in the female voice and how, very rarely, uses characters masculine as his protagonists. Enter The Law of Similars and it's main voice, Leland. Granted, Leland is a single dad, a prosecutor for the state attorney's office in Vermont (suprise! another novel set in Vermont!) who wears suspenders that button onto his slacks, but still it's a male voice!

This book is another alternative medicine vs. western medicine story that Bohjolian seems to be drawn to, this time focusing on homeopathy. There are accidents and questionable behaviors. There are secrets and sex. There are copious descriptions of small town Vermont. It's not a bad read. I would certainly recommend it.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Girl With No Shadow by Joanne Harris is the sequel to her novel, Chocolat, which was a lovely tale of fear, love, identity and chocolate. The movie version also starred the delicious Johnny Depp. Chocolate and Johnny Depp, a lovely combination. The sequel was a good story too. Harris continues on with the theme of identity, delving into the world of identity theft, while weaving in still more love and more chocolate. Unlike the first novel, in which the magic is largely divined through chocolate, in this story it is much more out in the open with spells cast and secret symbols drawn. Harris introduces Aztec and Mayan mythology, both of which have strong ties to chocolate, to her domestic magic. Clever. Worth a read if you enjoyed the first novel.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

My favorite dialogue from The Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton is this speech by Mr. Abasi, a Kenyan librarian who is charged with helping an American librarian, Fi Sweeny, administrate the camel bookmobile project. This is Abasi's response to the project:

"The facts you have in front of you --- the number of patrons reached, the titles of the most popular books, the cost per patron--- do very little to reflect the human costs of bringing a library on the backs of camels to people like this. These people live hard lives by ancient values, and they're proud of htat. They've developed a philosophy to deal with drought and death. When we arrive from the outside and insist that they learn to read --- books that, as it turns out, are mostly about very different places and concerns --- we confuse them. Possibly even undermine them. I think Miss Sweeny will tell you that their young are as sharp as any. And their elders may be wiser. Compared with them, after all, we of the settled, literate society have a kind of inflexibility. So your project raises question. Do they want to be part of what you call the 'larger world'? And whom should be teaching whom?" (Hamilton, 294-95)

I've been thinking a lot about arrogance these days. I wonder if we've become so arrrogant that we've lost the ability to honor and learn from other cultures, even those we perceive as backward or behind, for fear of falling behind ourselves. Whom should be teaching whom? I suppose the answer is everyone.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

This week's speed read selection is Moose: A Memoir of Fat Camp by Stephanie Klein. In this effort, Klein chronicles her experience as an overweight child and teenager. Klein is brutally frank about the way her family, friends and peers treat her. It was a heartbreaking book to read and made me think twice about how quick I am to judge those whose appearance is counter to what I consider healthy or beautiful or appropriate. This book is a quick read that will not be quick to leave your memory.