Friday, August 31, 2007

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

Lyman Ward, an elderly wheelbound man, is writing a biography of his pioneer grandparents. As he traces the history their life and marriage, we also get a glimpse into his own failed marriage. What he learns about marriage from his grandparents may affect how he handles his own relationship with his ex-wife.

This is a big, sprawling novel. The first 50 pages were tough to get through, but it picked up after that. Some parts seemed really long and overly descriptive (definitely NOT a beach/vacation read and I'm not sure if I'll ever read it again because it wasn't necessarily an easy read), but it was worth it for the final 50 pages or so. The ending provides lots of food for thought....when do we forgive? what makes us trust again? when do we try to rebuild trust and when do we throw in the towel? what does it take for us to stay engaged and work through deep hurt and broken trust? can we ever fully heal from betrayal? what if we decide not to stay? what does that say about us? A serious, thoughtful book that requires some commitment and time, but the ending and the questions it raised made it worth it for me.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

I love love love Stargirl, which is why I asked Boomer to read it. When I saw the sequel, Love, Stargirl, at the store, I was so excited that I immediately bought it (hardcover! which, for those of you who know how big of a library fan I am, is rare...the only other hardcover books I've bought in recent years are the Harry Potters).

In the first book, we learn about Stargirl through the thoughts of Leo Borlock, the narrator. Stargirl remains as mysterious and eccentric to us as she is to Leo. The sequel takes place fairly recently after the first book ends and is written from the viewpoint of Stargirl.

Somehow, it just didn't work. The magic and charm of Stargirl is gone. She's still intelligent, different, and compassionate, but I was not fascinated by her. The storyline did not seem as tight and cohesive as Stargirl, and most of the supporting characters were actually kind of annoying. So, I've decided that I will recommend that Boomer NOT read this book (as he has already asked to read it). The first book, Stargirl, can stand alone. So read that one and forget about this one.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (A Guest Review)

Guest blogger: Boomer
Boomer is recently rediscovering the joy of reading and is honored to be a guest blogger on El Estante Para Libros.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli proved to be singularly inventive and cleverly crafted. Written primarily as a social commentary on the often cruel labyrinth of the high school social scene, the author also writes a heartfelt story about coming of age and self-discovery. By far the best part of the book is the titular character herself. As an enigmatic mix of wholesome honesty and clever creativity, Susan “Stargirl” Caraway carries the story and is the hook that invites the reader to explore just how foolish we all remember being in high school. This book was a fun, lighthearted read, but it still carried enough depth to make me think and tune into my heart. I would heartily recommend it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Wallace Stegner's Crossing to Safety

This is a story about two couples from very different upbringings and social classes. The husbands are professors at the same Wisconsin university during the Depression. The two couples become lifelong friends and this novel tells of the ups and downs of their friendship, lives, careers, and health. Stegner makes these characters come alive and I really came to like them all.

This novel seemed so real. Life is hard and complex. The hard blows will inevitably come. This book takes an honest look at friendship, marriage, life, and tragedy. And the writing is excellent. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

To choose between something safe and conventional vs. something new and risky. To live a life that looks satisfying on the outside, but to be slowly dying on the inside because your heart is being denied what would give it life. Living without regrets, listening to your heart, pursuing what you know awakens you and makes you feel alive.

These are the themes in this book about Newland Archer and the choice he makes about who to marry. This novel is engrossing and heartbreaking. It is also beautifully written. Wow. It's been awhile since I've read a book that has touched my heart so deeply. After I finished reading it, I sat in silence for a few minutes just to think about how the ending had moved me.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

I first bought this book for my Agroforestry PhD candidate best friend. I then picked it up at the library to read for myself.

Kingsolver details the year in which her family of four ate locally and, for the most part, lived off of their farm in southern Appalachia (they purchase what they don't grow or raise themselves from neighboring farms). This book is educational and adventurous at the same time. The writing is rich, satisfying, and beautiful, as is usually the case with Kingsolver.

Reading this book has been applicable to my own suburban life. It has made me think more about where my food is coming from. Yes, most of my food still comes from Safeway, but I am more motivated to consider how I can eat more locally. This summer, for the first time, I am growing three plants: cherry tomatoes, green peppers, and basil. Eating vegetables from my backyard has made me much more mindful of the flavors, beauty, and efficiency of homegrown food. I am planning on adding some more plants this year. This book also encouraged me to research Community Supported Agriculture programs and I'm hoping to join one at a local farm next season (

This book also made me think more about my own experience with food. I was born and raised in suburbia where most any fruit or vegetable can be bought at the grocery store down the street whether or not it is really in season. I didn't realize this was unnatural until I lived in southwestern China and relied almost solely on the local open-air market for my meat, vegetables, and fruit. It really wasn't until I was 24 years old that I learned that onions aren't in season year round. Tomatoes aren't either! Once I got over this shock, I became more in-tune with what food life was like outside of suburbia and in a more rural setting. I started to love that all of the produce I bought had been picked that morning by the person (or their family members) selling it to me. And that their farms were probably within a mile of my apartment, in the farms surrounding the university campus. Filling up my bicycle basket with this bounty of local, fresh vegetables became one of the highlights of my week. It's also something that I miss the most about living there.
Overall, this book was a treat to read, and made me wonder about how my eating could be different, healthier, and friendlier.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith

This is a beautiful book written by Barbara Brown Taylor. She recounts her time working as a pastor, first at a large church in Atlanta, and then at a small rural church in Clarksville, Georgia. She eventually experiences burn out and leaves her post at the church to teach at a university. As she does this, she struggles with her identity: she is no longer a "professional holy person," but rather someone living life in the community.

I really liked this book because Taylor is so honest about her feelings, questions about God, and what spirituality looks like. Her writing is eloquent and I stopped many times to jot down quotes in my journal. Reading her story is inspiring. It makes me want to strive less and rest more, to enjoy being human and alive, and to expand my idea of where and how I can find God.