27 February 2014

What's On My Nightstand

It's been so long since I've done one of these posts, so I'm really glad to only be a day behind with this one. I've been in a bit of a reading slump and this is just the thing to push me onto greater things.

What's On Your

  •  An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943, Volume 1 of the Liberation Trilogy by Rick Atkinson: I'm reading the Liberation Trilogy with a college friend. Her dad recommended them and we've been slogging through this one since Monday.
  • The Road to Wellville by T.C. Boyle: This one is for the library book club.
  • Freedom by Jonathan Franzen: I'm actually listening to this one. At work about half of what I do is data entry, and I've begun a new phase where I'm listening to books at work. I usually just listen to books I have read before, but I think I will expand my audiobooks to books that I'm not actually sure I'll like, but I've been curious about for a long time. This is one I've been curious about. So, I guess you could say it's not really on my nightstand, maybe my desk.
  • The Wings of the Dove by Henry James: This one has been really slow going, and not just because I think large portions of the book just don't make sense. It's also because whoever did the cover art for this book thought it would be cool to make it look like a torrid romance novel. I can't take it anywhere.
  • The Collected Poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay
  • The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis: Recommended highly by a good friend. I've actually been trying to read one Christian Living or Theology book a month. Same with poetry. Sadly this book and the above mentioned poetry book are both of January's selections. I'm not doing very well wit that particular New Year's Resolution.

  So, that is what I've been up to. Hopefully I'll be able to tell you at the end of March that I have accomplished all of this. 

17 February 2014

The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

     One of my book clubs chose The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford as our February selection. This book has long been in my mind as one I’d like to read and it came highly recommended by other readers whose opinions I trust. I’d been laboring under the impression that this book club had already picked that book for one of the meetings I missed so I was very happy to be mistaken.
The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a teenaged love story. I know I know, but it’s not that bad. If you can get over the fact that these kids are thirteen when they “fall in love” you will love this book. And really folks, compared to a lot of what is out there, the relationship is so very innocuous, please don’t let it distract you.
     The story is set in Seattle and the chapters flip back and forth between present day and “the war years.” It’s the story of Henry Lee, the single child of a very traditional Chinese family who has been given the opportunity to go to an all white school where he meets Keiko Okabe, a Japanese girl who he befriends much to the chagrin of his parents. It’s probably very easy to see where this is going. Of course the book opens very close to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and quickly Henry and Keiko are separated just as they are becoming more than friends.
     Henry is an old man when the book opens and has recently been widowed. He’s long ago lost track of Keiko, but a surprising discovery of countless forgotten Japanese belongings in the basement of an abandoned hotel causes him to confront his old feelings. Along the way he navigates his relationship with his son and the two slowly become closer.
     This is a really sweet story. It has a bit of mystery, a bit of historical fiction, a bit of romance, and a bit of culture. Henry is a protagonist you can respect. His forgiving attitude after all his father put him through was commendable. His selfless love of his wife was inspirational, and by the way I think their love story was very sweet on its own terms.
     Also, Jamie Ford’s writing is phenomenal. He just tells a really good story and tells it well! I immediately added his other novel to my “to read” list on Goodreads. I hope it’s as good as this one. I’m just so happy that a contemporary author was able to write a compelling and beautiful story without anything bad in it. There isn’t one bad word or any sex in the whole book. Incredible! I’d shake Mr. Ford’s hand if I knew him.
     The only teeny criticism I have is that the end just seemed too unbelievable. Maybe just a little contrived. But I readily forgave it, because I wanted it to end that way anyway. I’m so happy to have had the chance to read this book. It was great!

     And of course because one star Goodreads reviews are so much funnier than five star ones, this reviewer said: “I am not the target audience. I am no fan of the sweet and sentimental; of pathos and wistfulness; of romance and thwarted love. And I despise Orson Scott Card, who helped get this book written, for his stalwart work on behalf of homophobia. Science fiction writers who are on the wrong side of history belong in the special hell.”  That’s right, why review a book when you could just take pot shots at a totally different author and judge them....for being judgmental.

04 February 2014

Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder

    I finished Strength in What Remains right before the Super Bowl started. I’ve been reading it in tiny snatches for far too long and fortunately (for the book, not for myself) I came down with a strange fever/flu/strepthroat hybrid disease that has laid me up for quite a while and given me plenty of time to read.
     Strength in What Remains is the true story of Deogratias Niyizonkiza, a former medical student who escaped the genocide in Burundi in 1994 and came to New York under the pretext of selling and buying coffee.
     At this point you’re probably going (unless you are very well informed), “what genocide in Burundi?” Well, I said that too. I had heard of the genocide in Rwanda where the Hutus tried to kill the Tutsis. Well, apparently Burundi had the same thing, with the same Hutu v. Tutsi set up. The interesting thing about that is as far as anyone can tell the differentiation between these two ethnicities was made up by the invading colonial power, which at the time was Belgium. Basically Belgium spread a rumor that the Tutsis were superior and you could tell by the fact that they were taller, lighter skinned and their noses were less broad. So, this insidious myth ended up causing a rift between these two “ethnicities” because the Tutsis were often trusted with more wealth and more power.
     Anyway, you don’t get to hear about what happened to Deogratias until about 2/3 of the way through the book. You first get to hear about his being in New York, and just that was pretty terrifying. He arrives knowing no English, with very little money and no job prospects. He goes from run down crummy apartment to run down crummy apartment barely able to get by by delivering groceries. At his lowest point he is homeless. He finally meets a young woman named Sharon who works very hard to get him off the streets and into school. With her help and the help of a married couple, Deo is able to finally get through school and into medical school.
     Deogratias has always wanted to be in medical school since he witnessed the death of his school friend at a very young age. He’s a highly sensitive man who wants to help others be well even if they are poor. His dream is to start a clinic in war ravaged Burundi, and Strength in What Remains follows his journey to doing just that. Of course, before he gets there, Deo has to confront the ugliness of his own memories.
     This was a tough story to read, but it was a really heartwarming story too. Online a lot of people will praise this book as a testament to what the human spirit is capable of, and it is. Don’t get me wrong. Deogratias was a very strong person who went through hell and still found a way to keep his humanity. But this was also a story of God’s providence. Some of the ways Deo survived were pretty unlikely. God had a distinct purpose in keeping him alive. Perhaps it was because God wanted a clinic in Burundi to help relieve the suffering of the poor people who had no way of seeing a doctor. Or perhaps God has other plans. It is hard to tell without being able to see the big picture like God can, but even if Deogratias doesn’t recognize it right now, he was very aptly named. Thanks be to God.