March Book Review

I am participating in a community event organized by a fellow blogger at Weird and Wonderful

My book review for March is: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri.  This is another book from the list of Pulitzer Prize winners.

Interpreter of Maladies is the first book by this author and is a collection of short stories.  To be honest, I am not a big fan of reading short stories but I do admire any authors ability to tell a good story in short form.

Lahiri was born in London and raised in the USA, of Indian descent.  She does an excellent job of portraying both the clash of cultures and the similarities of people.  I had several favorite stories in this book, This Blessed House, was one of them.

“They discovered the first one in a cupboard above the stove, beside an unopened bottle of malt vinegar.”  What a great opening line!  This Blessed House is a story about Sanjeev and Twinkle, yes, that is her name, the early days of their marriage and their preparations for their house-warming party.  Both Indian, both Hindu, Sanjeev is an engineer, detail-oriented, neat, organized.  Twinkle is his complete opposite, spontaneous, free-spirited, an office worker and student working on her Masters Degree.  As they are cleaning and prepping the house for the party, Twinkle begins to find small tokens of the former owner’s Christianity; a little statue of Jesus, a post-card of St. Francis, a cross key-chain; all of which Twinkle displays to Sanjeev’s growing irritation.  What constitutes a delightful treasure hunt to Twinkle gradually develops into a major conflict between them that erupts when a large statue of the Virgin Mary is found buried under fallen leaves in their yard.  Of course, Twinkle wants the statue cleaned up and displayed prominently on their front lawn.  How Sanjeev learns to appreciate Twinkle and his new, married life makes a delightful, sweet and touching love story.

The title story of the book, Interpreter of Maladies, was another I enjoyed for a different reason.  Mr. Kapasi has been hired to be the driver and tour guide for a young American family touring India.  The Das family are of Indian descent, both born and raised in America, visiting family in India with their three young children.  The story is told from Mr. Kapasi’s point of view as he observes the interactions between the couple and their children as well as telling them a bit about himself.  Mrs. Das reveals a secret to Mr. Kapasi, thinking that his other job, as a Gujarati language interpreter to a physician, gives him some special insights and helpful knowledge.  What Mr. Kapasi does with this information, his feelings towards Mrs. Das, and how Mrs. Das reacts to his response form the bittersweet ending to the story.

I recommend this book if you are a “people-watcher” who enjoys reading stories of how others view the world and I plan to read another by this same author once I finish my list!

Book Review Day

February Book Review

I am participating in a community event organized by a fellow blogger at Weird and Wonderful

The book I am reviewing for the month of February is: The Optimists Daughter by Eudora Welty.  I chose this book because of my personal challenge to read all of the Pulitzer Prize Winners for Fiction; I have read some amazing books from this list!

Eudora Welty is considered one of America’s most admired authors.  Born in 1909 in Jackson Mississippi, her first book was published in 1941 and several others followed in quick succession. Welty then stopped publishing for several years, resuming again in 1970.  In 1972 she produced The Optimists Daughter, which was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1973.  Welty died in 2001 in her life-long home, Jackson Mississippi.  (Welty’s bio)

The Optimists Daughter is a short novel, less than 200 pages, and the first book by Welty that I have read.  The story itself is simple.  Laurel McKelva Hand has traveled to New Orleans to be present for Judge McKelva’s surgery, the Judge is Laurel’s father.  Laurel’s mother had died after a long illness years earlier and her father has since remarried a much younger woman named Fay.  Laurel herself is also a widow, her husband died a year after their marriage in an attack on his naval ship during WWII.  Laurel’s father never fully recovers from the surgery and dies while still in the hospital.   Laurel and Fay travel by train to escort his body back to the family home in Mississippi for the funeral.

The story packs an emotional wallop as it deals with loss and grieving.  Welty’s ability to tell the story primarily through the dialogue of each character is masterful.  Welty imparts a distinctive voice to each person which enabled me to visualize them.  Much of the story is told by the other characters, Laurel herself says very little, keeping her thoughts and feelings contained within herself as she observes and listens to the others.  Each person in the story has different reactions to Judge McKelva’s death and again, Welty portrays each one vividly with her thoughtful descriptions, pacing and word choices.

I don’t want to give too many details about the plot or characters since I, as a reader, prefer to uncover them myself but one group of characters were particularly endearing, “The Bridesmaids”.  This group of women, friends since childhood, were Laurel’s bridesmaids at her wedding and all six of them show up at the train station and several other times in the story.  I loved how faithful, protective and supportive they were to Laurel, here is an excerpt from their reunion at the train station:

Tish Bullock winked at Laurel.  It was a moment before she remembered: this was the bridesmaids automatic signal in acute joy or distress, to show solidarity.

After the funeral, Laurel remains alone in the family home with her grief, searching for meaning, memories and understanding of her past and it’s relationship to the present.  Sooner or later, and like Laurel, each of us will deal with this most common human experience  – the death and loss of people we love.  Beautifully told, full of emotion, I definitely recommend a slow, thoughtful reading of this book.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” Revelation 21: 3, 4

Book Review Day

First Sentence from Favorite Book

Hapscomb’s Texaco sat on US 93 just north of Arnette, a pissant, four-street burg about 110 miles from Houston. Swerving off the road, the car kicked up a spray of gravel and cloud of dust.

“Man, I hope this dump is open, I gotta go so bad my teeth are floatin’”, she said.

“Yeah, me too! This is the first place we’ve seen for miles.”

I jammed on the brakes and parked next to the gas pumps.  We both flung open the car doors and bolted into Hapscomb’s small convenience store/office.

“Key to the rest room, please!”

The man perched on a stool behind the counter didn’t move. He probably thought we were crazy, we both said the same thing so fast.  He just stared at us, stoic, silent, unresponsive.  I spotted a key attached to an old license plate hanging on the wall so I grabbed it and we sprinted around to the side of the building.

As I walked back to my car, I stopped to stretch and take a deep breath. The air was hot and dry. Everything was covered with a fine coating of sandy dust, and was the same, flat non-color – sand. The longer I stood there, the quieter it seemed, the only sound was the soft sigh of the wind. If it is true that your first impression is the most important Arnette was in serious trouble; my first impression of was not good.

There were no other cars on the road and the single traffic light swung slowly back in forth in the dusty air; blinking yellow. The man working at the station must spend a lot of time in one place because he too had a thin film of dust on his clothes, his hair and his shoes; even the day old stubble on his chin was dusty. At least he had moved off his perch, he was leaning in the doorway, hands jammed into his pockets, silent, watching and I could see he was much younger than I first thought, probably in his twenties.

“Anyplace to get some lunch around here?” I asked him.

He blinked a few times, his eyes moving from us, to our car, to the road and back to us. I was ready to poke him with my foot to see if he was still breathing and trying to remember some sign language in case he was deaf. Finally, he said, “McDonalds down the highway ‘bout 47 mile.”

“47 miles! Isn’t there anything closer?”

“Well, Buddy’s is open until 2. Just keep goin’ into town, it’s right over on the left there.”

We looked at each other and shrugged. “Guess that’s our only option”, she said.

We gassed up the car and headed into town, looking for Buddy’s.

“There it is”, I said.

Buddy’s sign, like everything else in sight was faded and dusty.   I pulled in next to a couple of pick-up trucks and a dusty motorcycle. There were some customers inside. I could see them through the window so I knew the place was open. They all turned to look as we parked. They watched us get out of the car. They continued to stare as we walked towards the door.

“No need to lock it”, I laughed. “Nothing much going on around here.”

That decision would turn out to be the biggest mistake of my life.

(This story is in response to The Daily Prompt for January 10, 2015.  Take the first sentence of a favorite book and make it the first sentence of a post.  My sentence is the first line in one of my many favorites, The Stand by Stephen King.)

Call Me Ishmael

Got Rules?

What rules do you have in your head for yourself, for others?  You know you have them because you get upset when one of them gets broken!  I know I have a “mental rulebook” – here are a few of my rules:

  • Don’t interrupt me when I am reading, especially if I am deeply involved in the book!
  • Don’t interrupt me when I am watching a movie, especially if I am deeply involved in the movie!
  • Don’t mix patterns, stripes with plaid for example, this is a rule I apply only to myself.  I see other people do this all the time and it looks great on them, I can never make it work for me and I hate those people who can pull it off!
  • Keep to the right when driving, biking, walking in the mall, airport, park or on the sidewalk – just do it!
  • Stop asking your precious toddlers what they want  – period.  They’re the kids, you’re the adult – decide, they don’t have a clue and you sound ridiculous!
  • I don’t lend books.  I bought it cause I want it and you probably won’t return it anyway, don’t ask to borrow it and if I offer it to you just keep it and don’t try to pretend you forgot to return it.
  • Do not leave dirty dishes in my sink – if you use it, wash it.  Yes, wash it by hand since I don’t have a dishwasher.
  • I do not want to sit at the table with a dirty dish in front of me.  Server, clear the table right away please and if you eat at my house I WILL take your dish away as soon as you are done eating.
  • Stop putting toilet paper on the seat in the public restroom – the seat is cleaner than the faucets and door handles and if you are one of these nuts make sure you flush it away when you are done – yuk!

I could go on but you get the idea.  People see Christianity as a religion with lots of rules; this could not be further from the truth.  Christianity is a relationship that follows two simple rules: Love the Lord your God and Love your neighbor as yourself.  Can you imagine the transformation that would result if we practiced this law of love?

If I truly loved God, I would talk to Him constantly.  I would rush to spend time with Him and spend as much time with Him as possible.  I would start to resemble Him, being forgiving, gracious and merciful, patient and understanding.  I would want to give Him a gift, a gift He really wanted, a gift that would bring Him joy – my heart is what he wants most.

If I could love my neighbor as myself I’d be glad to give all my books away.  Interruptions would be seen as divine appointments.  Your litter and dirty dishes would just be a way I could serve you as I would like to be served.  If I could love my neighbor as myself, I would see you as God sees you.  God sees you as so precious, so worthy, so important that Jesus died for you.  God understands your pain, your sin, your uniqueness, He knows what makes you happy, He knows what you need,  He loves you  – I need to love you the same way.  God also holds us accountable for our actions, He does not protect us or prevent us from experiencing the consequences of our decisions – I also need to love you like that.  I can’t be your doormat, enabler or stumbling block so clean up your litter, control your kids and wash your dishes!

I know I have far to go in obedience to these two rules.  So simple but not easy…

P.S.  This post was inspired by a fellow blogger, you can read the inspiration post here:  Me – Who Am I?

What unspoken rule is in your mental rulebook?  I’d like to read it – add it in the comments…

Writing 101 – Finding My Voice!

Today’s challenge: You’re told that an event that’s dear to your heart has been cancelled forever or taken over by an evil organization. Write about it. The Twist: Write in your own, unique “voice”. (Since I could not think of an event I decided to write about the fictional takeover of a familiar public institution.)

Hey, didja see those ads on TV? The ads about libraries? Yeah, yeah, the ones where all the kids look like plastic dolls – all perfect and happy and weird lookin’.   Do you know what those ads are for?? The Farenheit Corporation! Did you know that the Farenheit Corporation is buying our library! What a giant load of horse hockey!

What do you mean, “So what?” Oh for goodness sake, don’t you know anything! Farenheit is the company that destroyed most of Denali Park. They got that logging permit and went completely crazy – they went in there and hacked down like 2 million acres of trees, they made millions on that deal!!! No one even knew about it until the fires started, it was a complete disaster – that area will NEVER be the same. It was disgusting!

So now, they’re gonna start runnin’ our library and not just here but all over the country, they are literally taking over libraries everywhere! They are buying them! The towns don’t have the money to keep them going so they’re selling them to Farenheit. All they see are big dollar signs – it is so stupid!

You know you are literally killing me, KILLING ME!!! You should care for cryin’ out loud. Don’t you get it? The idea of a public library is that it is for the pub-lic – all the public! Once the corporation takes over they’ll decide what books will be allowed in there, they’ll decide who will get to read the books, they’ll decide what authors are allowed to write the books – it’s outrageous! Yeah, I know you don’t care about this but you should!

Don’t you get it; this is one step away from corporate control of ev-er-y-thing. Not just books but movies, TV, the news…bit by bit they’re gonna control it all. Farenheit has been spinnin’ this story all over the Internet and TV. You know that ad with the plastic kids right. Did you notice what the kids are doing? Yep, all of ‘em are reading. Did you realize they all have the SAME book? Do you know what book it is? Of course not! It’s “My Company Rules!” Bradley Ray wrote it – he’s the CEO of Farenheit Corporation. Surprise? NOT!! The book is all about this great company that takes such good care of its workers and makes sure they’re happy and singing every day – that is creepy – corporate cyborg seven dwarves !!

Farenheit claims they’re going to make libraries better, clean up all the old books, the ones they say are out of date and replace them with nice, new CLEAN books!  They say books should only make people happy, not sad or upset. They claim too many books make people depressed, people shouldn’t waste their time on old books full of “weird” ideas and old-fashioned words – it’s all crap!! ARGH!!! Yes, I’m upset. People are fallin’ for this garbage! Don’t tell me to calm down. I can’t talk to you! I’m goin’ for a walk! Yes smartie, I am going to the public library while I still can!

Disclaimer: This is a fictional piece.  Thank you, Ray Bradbury for the inspiration!