Saturday, September 29, 2007

Can't Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg

Fannie Flagg's latest. Some books just make for fun, enjoyable reading. This is one of them.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A Class Apart: Prodigies, Pressure, and Passion Inside One of America's Best High Schools

In this book, Alec Klein spends a semester observing and experiencing life at New York City's Stuyvesant High School, one of the country's most prestigious and exclusive high schools (only 3% of applicants pass the entrance exam). Klein, a Stuyvesant alumnus himself, follows a handful of students and writes about their struggles and successes. He also writes about the faculty politics and academic pressure found at the school.

I'm a fan of investigative reporting so I enjoy books like this one. I feel like I got a taste of the atmosphere of the school. The stories of the students are engrossing and moving. Very enjoyable.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Remembering Laughter by Wallace Stegner

Short, direct, and a bit haunting. This Wallace Stegner novel is about Margaret and Alec, a couple living on a farm in Iowa, and Elspeth, Margaret's sister who comes to live with them. This book covers infidelity, family secrets, shame, and consequences. Not my favorite Stegner novel because it seemed too linear compared to his later works. However, Stegner is a master at accurately portraying and describing human emotions, and that is apparent here, in his very first novel.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg

A friend from college introduced me to Fannie Flagg's books (xie xie to Emily out there in Lanzhou!). Flagg's most famous book is Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe. Her books are fun, heartwarming tales about small-town Southern life.

This one is about Oswald Campbell from Chicago who, following his doctor's orders, reluctantly relocates to Lost River, Alabama for the winter. Oswald finds the small town to be made up of a quirky set of people who gladly welcome him into the community. It's really a story of new beginnings. A sweet afternoon read at anytime of the year despite it's holiday title.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Time to hit the (school) books!

Goodbye, summer vacation. Hello, fall quarter. I knew you would arrive sooner than I wanted.

Wallace Stegner's The Spectator Bird

I read the first 150 pages of this book the night before I left for vacation. I don't take library books with me when I travel so this one had to stay at home, unfinished, for a week before I could read the conclusion. I was kicking myself for not starting the book earlier in the afternoon.

This novel won the National Book Award in 1977. It's about an older couple, Joe and Ruth (also found in All the Little Live Things), who, prompted by a postcard from an old friend, read through Joe's journal that he kept during their trip to Denmark 20 years ago. This novel is about aging, life, marriage, choices we make, and the commitments we keep.

Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild

Chris McCandless, a recent college graduate, gives away all of his money and heads off to start a new life. He wanders around the United States for awhile, hitchhiking and working at odd jobs. His journey ends in the Alaskan wilderness with, after several months of living off the land, his death.

Jon Krakauer (author of Into Thin Air about his Mt. Everest climb, also an excellent read) researched the last years of McCandless' life and pieces it together for us. He weaves in interviews with McCandless' family and friends in an attempt to understand what prompted McCandless to leave his old life behind and walk "into the wild." Of course, only McCandless has an answer for that, but Krakauer puts together a fascinating narrative of the last few years of Chris' life. A little spooky and disturbing, but it's a page-turner.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Iraq Study Group Report

Last month, I read a newspaper article about the death of Sgt. Michael Tayaotao who was serving his third tour of duty in Iraq. He was a local boy, graduating high school the same year I did from the school across town.

Reading about Tayaotao's death made me remember that thousands of families have lost family members. As of today, there have been 3,754 confirmed US deaths in Iraq and 44,729 Iraqi deaths (the number of Iraqi deaths reflects only those deaths reported by news agencies, so the actual number is much higher). Also, 27,186 US soldiers have been wounded so far.

This weekend, I read The Iraq Study Group Report in an effort to gain a better understanding of the situation. The Report gives an overview of what's going on and also includes 79 specific recommendations for "moving forward." I feel more informed, although I know that this 96-page report is simple and just the tip of the iceberg. It made me realize that it's not just a black and white choice between "staying the course" or withdrawing troops.

I encourage you to read this. There's no way you could read this and not come away better informed.

An excerpt:

"While it is clear that the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is moderating the violence, there is little evidence that the long-term deployment of U.S. troops by itself has led or will lead to fundamental improvements in the security situation. It is important to recognize that there are no risk-free alternatives available to the United States at this time. Reducing our combat troop commitments in Iraq, whenever that occurs, undeniably creates risks, but leaving those forces tied down in Iraq indefinitely creates its own set of security risks" (Baker, 2006).

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time

This morning I read that Madeleine L'Engle died on Thursday at age 88. A Wrinkle in Time won the Newbery Medal for best American children's book in 1963. So this afternoon I picked up my copy, re-read it, and found it enjoyable once again.

All the Little Live Things by Wallace Stegner

I guess I am on a Wallace Stegner kick because this is the third Stegner book I've read this summer with a fourth sitting on my desk waiting to be read next. I enjoy his books because he creates characters of real depth. He delves into the human experience without padding it at all. Sometimes life is tricky, complicated, horribly unfair, and filled with grief. It's just how it is, and Stegner doesn't veil that at all.

All the Little Live Things is about Joe and Ruth, a couple living in rural California. The other characters include Jim Peck, a wanderer and hippie-type fellow, who camps out on their property, and the Catlins, a young couple with a daughter, who move in next door. The topics in this book range from enjoying the little pleasures in life to taking one's own life, pregnancy, anticipatory grief, and untimely death.

How the characters dealt with heartbreak resonated with something inside of me. Sometimes we can't escape disappointment and despair. Feeling it and going through it (rather than trying to avoid and deny it) is the only route to take. It's not fun, but to not experience the pain and grief is to cheat ourselves out of the richness of the emotions that life brings, both good and bad.