Tuesday, September 01, 2020

TWO MORE FOR THE 2020 LIST


 THE SPLENDID AND THE VILE

By Erik Larson

 

It was early May, 1940. Neville Chamberlain, a member of the Conservative Party, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, but was quickly losing power. Chamberlain knew he had to step down but who would succeed him as leader of the Conversative Party. Two possible choices—Lord Halifax and Winston Churchill. Chamberlain recommended to the king, who would name the next prime minister, that Winston Churchill be the one.  He was not immediately a popular choice. The opposition Labour Party despised him. But Chamberlain, who had lost the confidence of the Convervative Party, sensed that Churchill was exactly the man for the times.

 

On May 10, King George VI summoned Churchill to Buckingham Palace, and asked him to form a government. Churchill was elated—this is the moment for which he had been preparing all his life. But, on that same day, Adolph Hitler’s troops invaded Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands as they advanced toward Paris, France.

 

Thus begins the saga of Winston Churchill as prime minister in England’s darkest hour. The Splendid  and the Vile begins its account with the naming of Churchill and the beginnings of the Battle of Britain. The account covers the one year time span from Churchill’s ascension to leadership in May 1940 to May 1941. Drawing on official documents and personal accounts from those who lived through the battle Larson weaves a thoroughly mesmerizing recounting of what was England’s darkest hour and Churchill’s display of precisely the kind of leadership needed for the times.

 

I learned a great deal from this book, which surprised me a bit. I was an English Lit major in college, so British history was a prerequisite. And I am also an Anglophile, for many reasons. Further, I have read various biographies of Churchill. Much as I thought I knew about him and the first year of World War II for England, I still learned much. And am the richer for it.

 

 

 

EUPHORIA


By Lily King


I had seen the book Euphoria when it first came out several years ago, and had in fact marked it as a book I wanted to read. But I didn't have it or do anything about getting it. Then a couple of weeks ago, the Kindle version was offered as one of the "deals of the day" books, and I got it.

 

Having slogged through THE MOSQUITO: A Human History, I was ready for something engaging that wouldn't take forever to read. And also something that would be more focused and satisfying.

 

Enter EUPHORIA.

 

When I was in college, I read Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa. My own feminism was developing at that time, and I loved the observations Mead recorded.


That was enough of a recollection for me to dive into Euphoria. It didn't disappoint. It was a quick read for me. No laborious over-explained passages. The characters of Nell, Fen and Bankson are inspired by the real lives of Margaret Mead, her first husband Reo Fortune, and Gregory Bateson, who was Mead's second husband.


The trio are conducting research into tribal customs: Nell and Fen studying one tribe while Bankson studies another, several hours travel away from Nell and Fen. 


It doesn't take long for the electricity of relationships to heat up. Nell and Fen are married, collaborators and rivals. Bankson is lonely, isolated but dedicated to his research. His somewhat chance meeting with Nell and Fen sets him on a path, both of research but also interpersonal complications. Perhaps, not surprisingly, a love triangle forms which increasingly occupies to focus of the narrative.


It turns out that, for me, Euphoria was a quick read. But unlike some quick reads, which are soon forgotten because of their lack of substance, Euphoria will stay with me for a long time. Much to contemplate and mull. Putting the love triangle aside, there are stunning observations on cultural norms and how they are form, on uses to which research is sometimes put--not always good uses. These are the things I will think about, even as I say farewell to Nell, Fen and Bankson.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Trying Hard to Catch Up and Make My Reading Goal

I set myself an annual reading goal, as I have the last several years. I have succeeded in meeting those goals, but this year I have gotten behind. See previous blog for the reason (clue: the third book in the Thomas Cromwell trilogy).

--------------


The Return

By Hisham Matar

 

This excellent book is an aching combination of a family displaced, a father’s disappearance and a son’s quest to find his father.  The events detailed include the existence of the kingdom of Libya (1951-1969), which was ended with Qaddafi’s overthrow of King Idris I (in 1969). Libya suffered under various powers’ domination through history—including under the Ottoman Empire and under Italy’s colonization of the country. These details are necessary to help understand the deep sense of loss that Libyan patriots experienced when Qaddafi rose to power. The revolution quickly devolved into autocracy and tyranny. 

 

His family had been living in Cairo, Egypt. His father was an outspoken critic of Qaddafi. Eventually, his father was abducted in Cairo and presumably handed over to Qaddafi’s henchmen.  It is at that point that the father disappears. Matar, who had been studying in London, begins a search that lasts several decades to find his father.

 

The book not only examines the wrenching loss the family feels, and that Mater feels as a son, but also looks unsparingly at the evils of overwhelming dominating power that places little to no value on the life of someone as accomplished as Matar’s father.

 

 ------------------

The Mosquito: a Human History of Our Deadliest Predator

By Timothy Winegard

 

I had a very personal reason for wanting to read this book. When I was three years old, living with my parents, my younger sister who was just eight months old was bitten by a mosquito, and developed malaria fever and died within a few weeks. That is my earliest memory. In part, because of that, I have always followed news about mosquitos and malaria and humanity’s effort to control or even eradicate this plague.

 

I confess that I was disappointed in the book. Rather than being a scholarly work, detailing the mosquito’s impact on humans, the book moves from antiquity to the current time, rehashing previously available information about how mosquitos have plagued human, as the cause of various disease, notably yellow fever and malaria.

 

The author spends a great deal of time chronicling various events where battles were decided in favor of one army or another—and then he interweaves somewhat speculatively that mosquitos decided the outcome of these battles. This tendency is particularly true in the more ancient history sections. There were chapters that were genuinely interesting, and seemed more grounded in the author’s general thesis. 

 

So, long analysis shortened—there are passages that are interesting and informative. And there are passages that are tedious, speculative and seemingly aimless.

 

 ---------------

Killers of the Flower Moon: the Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

By David Grann

 

I had seen the title of this book multiple times on various emails recommending books. The title intrigued me so finally I bought it (in e-read format).

 

Such a promising title. Such a promising premise. Such a failure to live up to either.

 

To be fair--the writer did a great deal of research into a horrific time in American history, focusing on a string of murders in Oklahoma where Osage native Americans, who happen to have been relocated to tribal lands that were later found to have oil repositories. The resulting boom made many of these Osage hugely wealthy. In a systematic and highly calloused way, white Americans married Osage tribal members, had themselves declared the manager of financial affairs and heirs in the potential death of the Osage spouse.  AND then proceeded to systematically murder the Osage--whether by outright violence, such as shooting someone dead, blowing up a house, or by slower more subtle means of poisoning.

 

These events occurring in the 1920s mark a very dark time in U.S. history. In a convergence of historical events, the murders were occurring about the time that the Federal Bureau of Investigation  was being established. Solving the murders became largely the work of one FBI special agent, Tom White. Through long and arduous work, he eventually tracks down the primary culprits, brings them to justice and an eventual successful trial.

 

But the story does not end there.

 

The author gathered so much information, so many records, so many contacts that he continued with reading through the volumes of notes he acquired, interviews he had conducted and such. What he found was that the 1920 murders that were detailed in the Killers of the Flower Moon account were only a handful among possibly hundreds of Osage swindled out of their possessions, and by various means dispatched. What the author discovered is that rather than being a self-contained story tracking "who killed Anna Brown" the story was of multiple murders.

 

My main criticism is that as a result of pursuing two separate theses, the book begins to drag. I applaud the author's exhaustive research, but times "less is more."  The reader becomes numbed to the impact of so many murders. That does not make them acceptable, but it does make them seem routine and thereby less important.

-----------


OK--back to reading. Working on catching up.

 

Sunday, July 12, 2020

More Book Reviews

The Mirror and the Light
By Hilary Mantel

Whew! I am exhausted…bereft…fulfilled. It's been long slog. I had set my reading goal for the year as 25 books. Then I started reading The Mirror and the Light. Having read the first two books in Hilary Mantel's trilogy on Thomas Cromwell, I could not forego that last.

But I knew it would  slow my reading to a crawl. You simply cannot skim through this book and enjoy it. So I slowed down, and relished every word.

Mantel's accomplishment, in part, is taking an historical figure who has not always been seen in a favorable light and making him thoroughly likable, though very complicated.

If you don't know Tudor history, this book might elude you. I know English history passingly, including Tudor history (an absolute requirement for English majors reading Shakespeare's history plays). This book, and the two predecessors in the trilogy, added to my understanding.  And sent me many times to doing a bit of historical brushing up--who was this character? what was this event? Etc.

This trilogy is a masterpiece of English literature. Not only is the sweep and scope far reaching (covering major parts of the reign of Henry VIII), but the depth and nuance of the narrative technique is singular. Mantel tells Thomas Cromwell’s story in present tense, even as she switches back and forth in time. Memory is a strong component of the work, as we learn many circumstances of Cromwell’s rise to power via his own ruminations considering his personal history.

With this book the third in the trilogy, we move from the execution of Anne Boleyn to the eventual death of Thomas Cromwell.  The novel slowly builds to the inevitable conclusion, that we know historically. Knowing the dénouement in no way robs this book of its tension. 

At the outset of the novel, Cromwell witnessed the execution of Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife—it was Cromwell who accomplished the setting aside of Katherine, Henry’s first wife making the marriage to Anne Boleyn possible.  That alone is a harbinger of the inevitable turn of the wheel of fortune. Yet, at the outsight of The Mirror and the Light, Cromwell is at his zenith. 

The novel slowly builds, with Cromwell’s influence unchanged…except. The slow unraveling bit by bit becomes apparent. Near the end of the novel, the reader can discern the palpable tension—and I had the urge to yell “THOMAS, PAY ATTENTION!  They’re out to get you.”

Part of the mastery of Mantel’s writing is that there is an almost imperceptible change in tone. As reader, you can see coming what Thomas does not. And when he finally does see that his enemies are building towards his being cast down, he still tries to work his magic.

The title—The Mirror and the Light—refers to a comment Cromwell makes to Henry VIII: “ the mirror and the light of all other kings and princes in Christendom.” Yet, the interplay between mirror and light shifts—sometimes it seems Henry is the reflection. Of course, Cromwell has made his comment as an obsequious complement to Henry, meant to assuage Henry’s jealousy that Cromwell might presume himself to be more important than Henry. It was precisely that fear in Henry that gave Cromwell’s enemies the means whereby to drive the wedge between monarch and minister leading to Cromwell’s own beheading.

------------------------------------------------- 


Born a Crime
By Trevor Noah

This engaging account by Trevor Noah of his childhood, and coming of age, is charming, sobering, enlightening and at times frightening.

The title refers to the fact that his mother was a black South African, and his father a white Swiss national--during apartheid when it was a crime for a black person and a white person to have sexual intercourse, much less bear a child out of that union.

Trevor Noah writes informatively of what it was like to grow up among several worlds--the black world epitomized in the various townships; the white world by virtue of his mother's working as a domestic for white families, and also the few contacts with his father. And also the colored world. The absurd division of humanity into various classes was a hallmark of apartheid South Africa. He explains that you could be classified (with official documents) as colored one day and then white another. (The reader should understand that colored was not nomenclature for a child produced from a black/white union, but rather a separate "class" of humans with varying backgrounds.)

The wonder is that Trevor Noah grew up, survived, functioned, learned, and emerged as the bright young man he is.


---------------------------------------------


Woodsburner
By John Pipkin

First, I did learn several things of historical interest and value.  E.g. David Henry?  Who knew? 

Second, I have a favorite character--as well as reactions to other characters. My favorite--Oddmund. Aka Odd. The abbreviation is very telling. 
Reactions to other characters-- 
Eliot--what a pain. Although, he redeems himself at the end. 
Henry David--hmmm. Not sure what to say. I found him to be dithery. I really expected "an unexamined life" to be worked in at one point. However, the biographical background about this incident in his life. I love that he called Odd "New America." And his querying Odd foreshadows his own living in the woods. 
Emma and her husband--the husband is, of course, a lout. Emma has her own survival story, as did Odd. Their pairing makes perfect sense 
Caleb--wow! Gives real insight into some of the religious issues of the day. 
Anezka and Zalenka (can't help but notice their names are A to Z).  

Third, memorable interactions or themes. 
The infancy of the country but with the view to the future where too much change occurs without thinking about it. 
The story of immigrants--the hardships they endure and the reasons they left the Old World. 
The undercurrent of same sex attraction being persecuted, and in the case of Oddmund's uncle--leading to death. 
Involvement in civilization vs. seeking solitude. 
FIRE--this is a huge theme. Of course, the woods being on fire. But Odd's father brings the trunk from the old country--proceeds to take items signifying attachment to the old, and setting them on fire. Until the explosion. Thus Odd loses his family. Of course, his reaction to the Concord fire is vivid--thinking he caused it, helping to fight it, warning the town about it, and "rescuing" Emma. 
Caleb's lethal fascination with fire (and hell). His walking into the burning woods. And most appropriately Anezka and Zalenka rescuing him. 
AND Eliot--his constant play writing, and the thought to end the play with a house on fire. The actual fire and his experience with it seem to be a purging for him that gives him some focus. 

Not one of my "top ten books ever written" but certainly unique.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Look of Impassivity

I am haunted by the image of Derek Chauvin's impassive face as he kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.  That’s a long time—try this. Stay silent for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. It’s a long time.

And yet through the whole time, the face of the policeman was impassive, unmoved, almost bored in appearance. Keep in mind, under his knee a fellow human being is struggling, attempting to breathe and PLEADING for his life –“I can’t breathe.”

As the video was played, replayed and replayed, I could not keep watching it. Floyd was dying, and Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck the whole time. So many things haunted me, but what struck me the most was the look on Chauvin’s face. Looking around. Not registering any feeling as to common humanity. Bored. 

It struck me because I had seen that look before. And then I remembered where.  When I was in my last job, teaching composition at the local community college, I had a classroom full of (mostly bored) students. Composition is the last course most students want to take but the one they ALL must take. It was not uncommon to lose the students’ attention. Usually, with my “teaching skills,” I was able to reconnect them (most of them) with the topic at hand.

But, one day I realized that bit by bit all of the students were not paying attention. It started with the row of students closest to the window. They began looking intently out the window at something that had them captivated. Then the next row, and the next until practically the whole class were out of their seats looking down from our 2nd story classroom to the green quad outside. So, I gave up and joined them.

There under a magnificent huge tree was a hawk. It was sitting on the ground, and held in its talons a squirrel. The squirrel was struggling mightily, trying every which way to escape. But the hawk held fast. And while it did, it leisurely looked around. Head swiveling slowly one way, then another. All the while the squirrel struggled and the hawk seemed utterly indifferent. This battle continued for minutes—no idea how long, but it was clear the class was done. Finally, I suggested that we regather and continue whatever the lesson was. Reluctantly, many students turned back to their desks. I, however, could still see out the window. And I knew the struggle continued.

After minutes—maybe 8 minutes and 46 seconds—the squirrel ceased struggling. It lay on the ground motionless, still held in the talons of the hawk. After a brief respite, the hawk leisurely spread its wings, clasped its prey and flew off. The now dead squirrel dangled pathetically, its tail waving in the breeze.

The image of that hawk—predatory, seemingly disengaged from the struggle under it—that’s where I had seen a look like Chauvin’s before.  

Thursday, February 20, 2020

I really do have other hobbies, but I LOVE to read.

St. Paul: The Apostle We Love to Hate
By Karen Armstrong

This is a serious scholarly work, as one would expect from Karen Armstrong. It is not for the faint-hearted or the biblical illiterate or even literalist.

It was the title that intrigued me. I intensely disliked Paul, as do many women who have suffered because of some of the pronouncements in the Pauline letters ("Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior.  Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands."). There is also the admonition that women should remain silent in the church.

So I joined other feminist women in disliking Paul intensely. 

Armstrong does an admirable job explaining Paul's life and his mission. In many ways, he created the church. 

What I found most interesting was that there is scholarly support that not all the Pauline letters were written by Paul, but some were written by disciples of Paul. For those of us who read neither Greek nor Hebrew, we benefit from scholars such as Armstrong who does. And the evidence that she lays out suggests that many of the most misogynistic passages were in letters these followers of Paul wrote.

I repeat my initial caution--this is not a book for the faint-hearted or for someone looking for a quick way to dismiss Paul.  But if you want to learn more about Paul, this book helps fill in some of the blanks.




Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others
By Barbara Brown Taylor

I previously read (and reviewed) Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church. I was far less enamored with that book, so with reluctance I approached this book. Why, you might wonder, did I read a book by an author’s whose previous work I had not enjoyed?

Well, I belong to a book discussion group (called Reformed Readers!) which does a fair bit of reading books which lend themselves to discussion of matters of faith. AND Holy Envy is the next book up in our discussion calendar.

The book started out with a tone that seemed to be replicating the shallow tone that had previously frustrated me…but, then. THEN! Almost immediately after the introduction Taylor begins to deliver insight after insight on how religions are alike and different. Given her position as a college professor teaching an Introduction to Religions course, she has ample examples of the religious illiteracy that plagues the United States (and maybe other parts of the world). Her students are mostly drawn from various Christian backgrounds, with a few students from other religious traditions.

Having been a college instructor during my professional career, I was struck with the wonderful creativity she brought to her course teaching. Her desire to help expose students to other traditions, as well as her intention to help them becomes more literate not only about other religions but also their own, shines through the narrative of the book.  She gives examples of her technique—giving them a quiz at the beginning of a semester asking them basic questions about the five religions they study. These quizzes are then returned to them on the last day of the semester. What a wonderful teaching technique!

The title—Holy Envy—requires some explaining. By this Taylor means that there are things in other religious practices that she envies for various reasons. Throughout the book, as you read about the various faith places she takes students, and the experience of other religious worship that affords, she does say what “holy envy” she might have for a particular religious practice.

If you read this work, you will be enriched. Perhaps, like Barbara Brown Taylor, you will come to cherish even more your religious traditions at the same time to learn to understand and accept other religious traditions.


  

The Great Quake : How the Biggest Earthquake in North America Changed Our Understanding of the Planet 
By Henry Fountain

First, I need to confess that I am a science geek. No, I am not a trained scientist. It’s just that most books which deal with, explain, describe--you name it—natural phenomena always grab me. The title of this  book was all I needed to want to read it. I do not live in Alaska, and have only visited it (and did see where many of the landmarks mentioned in the book can be found). But, I did have an aunt who was living in Anchorage on that fateful date, March 27, 1964. It was for her one of the most terrifying experiences of her life.

True to the title, the book details how the post-event analysis of the earthquake helped geologists and geoscientists to recognize and define what we now plate tectonics (another one of the subjects I love).  To take you on the journey, the author introduces to a variety of people who were all players in the event. The primary focus is on George Plafker, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, who was one of the first scientists on the scene. It was his careful data gathering and then analysis that led him to posit a cause of the earthquake—what kind of fault—and in so doing lay out a description of plate tectonics.

You also meet a myriad of people living in different areas in southern coastal Alaska where the quake struck. These people help the reader appreciate the human dimension and scope of loss. 

The book requires a reader who does not easily tire at detail. In doing so, the reader is treated to an ably told thoroughly enjoyable account of one of the greatest earthquakes in history.



Where the Crawdads Sing
By Delia Owens

Fate led me to reading this book. I had seen the title of the book advertised, and offered again and again on Amazon. But since it was touted as a best seller, and since I am skeptical of the value of other people's choices of best book...i.e. big sellers...I eschewed buying and reading it.

Enter fate. On a rainy morning in October, I was on my way to an appointment. I was certain the time was 10:30 a.m. It was a rainy miserable morning, and my appointment was for a massage--perfect antidote to a rainy day. I arrived, went to the door, knocked--and NOTHING. No answer. So I quickly texted about the timing, and learned my appointment was later in the afternoon.  So, I trudged back to where my car was parked, turned over the key--and NOTHING.  Engine...aka battery totally dead. Did I mention it was raining?  I called AAA, was informed they could get there in 2 or 3 hours (really!). So what to do? I walked to a nearby local bookstore--and there it was—WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING—prominently displayed on the front table.

In my moment of weakness, I bought it. And started reading it. With a cup of chai latte tea in hand, and a rainy outside, and a delayed appointment, I read. And read--and fell in love with the novel.

The novel is all of these things: a coming of age story. You can find elsewhere the basics of the plot of this novel. It is also a murder mystery, a story of survival under the most difficult of circumstances--parental abandonment. It is a story revealing love of nature, and the power of community.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Variation on a Theme

I have been blogging about the books I read over the past year--and I will continue to review the ones I read in the year ahead.

But I take a brief break now to look at the other "end" of books. For every book you read, someone  had to write it.

While my father was alive, he spent several years writing, editing, re-writing his memoirs. He lived a  long and full life, so he had much to write about.
As a former missionary, he watched as other missionaries he know wrote AND published their memoirs. Quite a few of those were self-published, and my dad longed to have his memoirs published as well.

He had printed out full copies for each of his children, he gave a copy to the church archives, but he did not publish his memoirs for distribution.

After his death, I decided to edit these memoirs, condense some of the content (my dad could be wordy), eliminate some passages that were downright tedious (think the begats in the Bible).  I contacted the editor of the historical journal of the church to which my father belonged. And she was amenable, even encouraging of this effort.

So I began.

I edited and edited and edited. I read, re-read, rephrased...I have no doubt I read his original text a half a dozen times, and the edited version that I worked on perhaps as many times. Then I sent it to the editor. She in turn edited it, giving me the option to accept, or reject her suggestions (I mostly agreed as she has a fine eye for what works) or rework a passage if I thought the information was germane to the whole story.
I delivered the final final final work and then the journal editor sent it off to the company that publishes the journals.

On Sunday, I got a note from the editor--the printed journal had arrived!
So today, I picked up my complimentary copies as well as few extra to send to family members.

The completion of this project makes me very happy. In my thinking, it was one of the best ways to honor my father's memory. And by the journal publishing them, these memoirs will have a greater distribution than it would have had if my dad had self-published and given copies away.

Every book that I read was written AND edited by someone. I take my proverbial hat off to all of you who are authors, editors and publishers. 

Friday, January 10, 2020

TO INFINITY AND BEYOND--well, not really. Just to my 2020 goal and beyond.

Last year, I set a reading goal, which I met and passed. The books I read have been reviewed in the last several posts here.

So, what to do for 2020?  Why, set the same goal, of course. It worked last year, no need to crank it up a bit as I already went passed what I had set in the prior year.
So, here are reviews of the first two read this year, and one from last year I had not yet reviewed.


Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of OthersBy Barbara Brown Taylor

I previously read (and reviewed) Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church. I was far less enamored with that book, so with reluctance I approached this book. Why, you might wonder, did I read a book by an author whose previous work I had not enjoyed?

Well, I belong to a book discussion group (called Reformed Readers!) which does a fair bit of reading books which lend themselves to discussion of matters of faith. AND Holy Envy is the next book up in our discussion calendar.

The book started out with a tone that seemed to be replicating the shallow tone that had previously frustrated me…but, then. THEN! Almost immediately after the introduction Taylor begins to deliver insight after insight on how religions are alike and different. Given her position as a college professor teaching an Introduction to Religions course, she has ample examples of the religious illiteracy that plagues the United States (and maybe other parts of the world). Her students are mostly drawn from various Christian backgrounds, with a few students from other religious traditions.

Having been a college instructor during my professional career, I was struck with the wonderful creativity she brought to her course teaching. Her desire to help expose students to other traditions, as well as her intention to help them becomes more literate not only about other religions but also their own, shines through the narrative of the book.  She gives examples of her technique—giving them a quiz at the beginning of a semester asking them basic questions about the five religions they study. These quizzes are then returned to them on the last day of the semester. What a wonderful teaching technique!

The title—Holy Envy—requires some explaining. By this Taylor means that there are things in other religious practices that she envies for various reasons. Throughout the book, as you read about the various faith places she takes students, and the experience of other religious worship that affords, she does say what “holy envy” she might have for a particular religious practice.

If you read this work, you will be enriched. Perhaps, like Barbara Brown Taylor, you will come to cherish even more your religious traditions at the same time to learn to understand and accept other religious traditions.


The Great Quake : How the Biggest Earthquake in North America Changed Our Understanding of the Planet By Henry Fountain

First, I need to confess that I am a science geek. No, I am not a trained scientist. It’s just that most books which deal with, explain, describe--you name it—natural phenomena always grab me. The title of this  book was all I needed to want to read it. I do not live in Alaska, and have only visited it (and did see where many of the landmarks mentioned in the book can be found). But, I did have an aunt who was living in Anchorage on that fateful date, March 27, 1964. It was for her one of the most terrifying experiences of her life.

True to the title, the book details how the post-event analysis of the earthquake helped geologists and geoscientists to recognize and define what we now plate tectonics (another one of the subjects I love).  To take you on the journey, the author introduces to a variety of people who were all players in the event. The primary focus is on George Plafker, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, who was one of the first scientists on the scene. It was his careful data gathering and then analysis that led him to posit a cause of the earthquake—what kind of fault—and in so doing lay out a description of plate tectonics.
 You also meet a myriad of people living in different areas in southern coastal Alaska where the quake struck. These people help the reader appreciate the human dimension and scope of loss.  The book requires a reader who does not easily tire at detail. In doing so, the reader is treated to an ably told thoroughly enjoyable account of one of the greatest earthquake in history. 



Where the Grawdads Sing

By Delia Owens
(read in 2019)

Fate led me to reading this book. I had seen the title of the book advertised, and offered again and again on Amazon. But since it was touted as a best seller, and since I am skeptical of the value of other people's choices of best books*...i.e. big sellers...I eschewed buying and reading it.

Enter fate. On a rainy morning in October, I was on my way to an appointment. I was certain the time was 10:30 a.m. It was a rainy miserable morning, and my appointment was for a massage--perfect antidote to a rainy day. I arrived, went to the door, knocked--and NOTHING. No answer. So I quickly texted about the timing, and learned my appointment was later in the afternoon.  So, I trudged back to where my car was parked, turned over the key--and NOTHING.  Engine...aka battery totally dead. Did I mention it was raining.  I called AAA, was informed they could get there in 2 or 3 hours (really!). So what to do? I walked to a nearby local bookstore--and there it was—WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING—prominently displayed on the front table.

In my moment of weakness, I bought it. And started reading it. With a cup of chai latte tea in hand, and a rainy outside, and a delayed appointment, I read. And read--and fell in love with the novel.

The novel is all of these things: a coming of age story. You can find elsewhere the basics of the plot of this novel. It is also a murder mystery, a story of survival under the most difficult of circumstances--parental abandonment. It is a story revealing love of nature, and the power of community.


*Yes, I recognize the irony--my reviews are in their own way MY best books--and you, the reader, have every right to be skeptical.

------------
TO INFINITY AND BEYOND--well, not really. Just to my 2020 goal and beyond.