Thursday, August 07, 2008

Summer Reading

Occasionally I write a book review column for the local newspaper. This is a piece from earlier this season.

It’s finally summer and while the list of things to do around the house grows exponentially, I find that I am getting a lot of reading done. Maybe it’s because there are only reruns on TV, or maybe it’s because there are more hours of daylight now, maybe it is just avoidance. Anyway, I find summer vacation reading to be wonderfully luxurious.

The best book I’ve read so far this summer is THE UNDERNEATH by Kathi Appelt.
Technically this is a children’s book, but don’t let that stop you. If you read and loved Where the
Red Fern Grows, The Yearling, The Incredible Journey, Watership Down or Charlotte’s Web,
read this book.

It begins: “There is nothing lonelier than a cat who has been loved, at least for a while, and then
abandoned on the side of the road." Deep in the bayous a cat is left to fend for itself in a forest
with her belly full of unborn kittens. She is looking for somewhere safe to live, but instead she
finds Ranger, a hound, shot be accident years ago and chained ever since to the house of a man
known only as Gar Face. Ranger warns the cat that this place is dangerous and that Gar Face will kill her if he finds her, but she refuses to leave. The two curl up under the house into the
Underneath and there she gives birth to two kittens that she names Puck and Sabine. If you've a ten-year-old that can't read Charlotte's Web because they find Charlotte's death too disturbing, is this NOT the book for them. Other kids though, the ones with thicker skins, they will find much to love in this story. It will usher them into maturity, whether they want to go there or not. And it will use cute furry animals to do it.

Also on my list are an eclectic assortment of books beginning with David Sedaris’ new title
WHEN YOU ARE ENGULFED IN FLAMES. Reading a David Sedaris essay is like watching the author think. Each one is told as a stream of consciousness that somehow ties together beautifully in the end. This collection includes some laugh-out-loud essays, and others that are touching and poignant. All are thoughtful and so original they are obviously taken from real life. The stories are filled with memorable characters.

For pure fun I want to read Janet Evanovich’s latest, FEARLESS FOURTEEN, and yes, I’ve read the previous thirteen. Stephanie Plum, main character, is so smart, so honest, and so funny that her narrative charm could make a documentary on taxes be interesting. This tough gal from New Jersey, an unemployed discount lingerie buyer, has landed a job as a private detective in her cousin’s agency. Laughs ensue while murderers are captured. Janet Evanovich shares an
authentic feel for the streets of Trenton in this mystery series, and her tough, frank, and funny
first-person narrator offers a winning mix of vulgarity and sensitivity. BTW--I love the
grandmother character!

Although I am not going to make it to any beach this summer, I can visualize that vacation with
Jane Green’s THE BEACH HOUSE. Jane Green’s avid and loyal fans follow her because she writes about the true-to-life dilemmas of women—and The Beach House will not disappoint. Known in Nantucket as the crazy woman who lives in the rambling house atop the bluff, Nan doesn’t care what people think. At sixty-five-years old, her husband died twenty years ago, her beauty has faded, and her family has flown. If her neighbors are away, why shouldn’t she skinny dip in their swimming pools and help herself to their flowers? But when she discovers the money she thought would last forever is dwindling and she could lose her beloved house, Nan knows she has to make drastic changes. So Nan takes out an ad: Rooms to rent for the summer in a beautiful old Nantucket home with water views and direct access to the beach. Slowly, people start moving into the house, filling it with noise, with laughter, and with tears. As the house comes alive again, Nan finds her family expanding. Her son comes home for the summer, and then an unexpected visitor turns all their lives upside-down.

BURNING BRIGHT is Tracy Chevalier's latest novel. It paints a colorful, compelling portrait of 18th century London: the teeming streets, bawdy pubs, filthy factories, working-class homes, and the political unease generated by the French Revolution. The title, from a William Blake poem, hints that this historical fiction centers around Blake.The author's talent lies in bringing alive the ordinary day-to-dayness of the past. This work may not be as strong as Chevalier's earlier work,but it is a fun, fast read and perfect for summer reading.

Finally, I want to read Randy Pausch’s THE LAST LECTURE. A lot of professors give talks titled "The Last Lecture." One of the staples of "the college experience" at many schools is the "last lecture" --- a beloved professor sums up a lifetime of scholarship and teaching as if he/she were heading out the door for the last time. Professors are asked to consider their demise and to
ruminate on what matters most to them. And while they speak, audiences can't help but mull the same question: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance? If
we had to vanish tomorrow, what would we want as our legacy?

When Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, was asked to give such a
lecture, he didn't have to imagine it as his last, since he had recently been diagnosed with
terminal cancer. But the lecture he gave--"Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams"--wasn't
about dying. It was about the importance of overcoming obstacles, of enabling the dreams of
others, of seizing every moment (because "time is all you have...and you may find one day that
you have less than you think"). It was a summation of everything Randy had come to believe. It
was about living. In this book, Randy Pausch has combined the humor, inspiration and
intelligence that made his lecture such a phenomenon and given it an indelible form. I too want
to mull over the reason that I am here and what I still have to finish.

No comments:


"Color is the real substance for me, the real underlying thing which drawing and line are not."
--Sam Francis

"The great man is one who never loses his child's heart."
-- Philosopher Mencius

"We wear our attitudes in our bodies."
-- Patti Davis

Colour embodies an enormous though unexplored power which can effect the entire human body as physical organism.

Colour is a means of exercising direct influence upon the soul.
--V. Kandinsky
I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way.. things I had no words for.
Georgia O'Keeffe

Nothing is really work unless you'd rather be doing something else.
J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Faith is like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
E. L. Doctorow

Somebody once said that people become artists
because they have a certain kind of energy to release, and that rings true to me.
--Dale Chihuly