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Search tags: 1001-Books-You-Must-Read-Before-You-Die
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text 2018-05-18 18:07
The Country Girls / Edna O'Brien
The Country Girls - Edna O'Brien

Meet Kate and Baba, two young Irish country girls who have spent their childhood together. As they leave the safety of their convent school in search of life and love in the big city, they struggle to maintain their somewhat tumultuous relationship. Kate, dreamy and romantic, yearns for true love, while Baba just wants to experience the life of a single girl. Although they set out to conquer the world together, as their lives take unexpected turns, Kate and Baba must ultimately learn to find their own way.

 

I have absolutely no idea how to rate this book. Can I say that I enjoyed it? Yes and no. Can I say that I appreciated it? Yes indeed.

It was an important book for its time—published in 1960 and showing an Ireland that doesn’t exist anymore. One where the Catholic Church and patriarchy reigned supreme and women had extremely limited choices. You could get married or become a nun. That was pretty much it, at least for the country girls. Women weren’t admitted to be sexual beings and weren’t supposed to criticize how their society worked.

Edna O’Brien writes beautifully about the naiveté of the two rural girls when they come to the big city. Kate is the artistic, romantic, intellectual girl who has idealistic visions of what life should be like. She wants to discuss literature with her dates and they only value her sexuality. She becomes involved with an older married man from her village because he offers a window into the more sophisticated world that Kate longs for. Baba, on the other hand, is far more earthy—she wants to smoke, drink, and enjoy the company of men. The two women couldn’t be more different from one another, but small communities make for strange friendships. With few people of the right age to choose from, you bond with the most compatible person available and these relationships rarely withstand leaving home.

The poverty, the alcohol problems, the repression of women--The Country Girls reveals them all. No wonder this book was denounced and banned. It was hanging out the dirty linen for the world to look at.

Ireland is a country that is definitely on my “to visit” list. I love reading books which are set there and I will definitely read more of O’Brien’s work.

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review 2018-05-07 19:42
The Poisonwood Bible / Barbara Kingsolver
The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver

The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it -- from garden seeds to Scripture -- is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family's tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.

 

 

“Oh, mercy. If it catches you in the wrong frame of mind, the King James Bible can make you want to drink poison in no uncertain terms.”

A well written book with an engaging exploration of hubris. The hubris of colonial powers who think they are superior to their colonies. The hubris of men who think they are superior to women. And the hubris of religious men who think their religion is superior to all others.

In many ways, Nathan Price's attempt to grow an American garden in the Congo is representative of all those endeavours. First, he uses methods which work in Georgia and refuses all advice from local people. When his work gets washed away by the rains, he relents and uses local techniques. Then, his crops appear to flourish and grow luxurious foliage, but no fruits or seeds manifest. Eventually he realizes there are no pollinators for his pumpkins and beans, which will never amount to anything edible.

After the failure of his garden, Nathan gives up any attempt to feed and care for his wife and daughters. Instead, they must fend for themselves and face physical violence if they don't care for his needs. He remains obsessed with converting the Congolese to Christianity, while ignoring his own unChristian behaviour. Simultaneously, his Congolese neighbours display great charity, placing eggs under the Prices' chickens and depositing food in the kitchen under the cover of night. Instead of ministering to the natives, they minister to the Price family.

Nathan also refuses to study the local language to be able to express himself clearly. As a result, he is constantly saying, "Jesus is poisonwood" when he thinks he is proclaiming the greatness of Christ. He inhabits his own reality, which bears no resemblance to that of any one around him. His lack of empathy for others undercuts his message constantly. When confronted by missionaries who practice compassionate Christianity, Nathan becomes even more truculent and resistant, rather than recognizing the value of care and kindness.

The Price women are every bit as colonized as the Congo, as they are unwillingly exported from Georgia. All their dreams and desires are over-ridden by their patriarch's obsessions and goals. I found myself cheering for them as they (and the Congo) chose independence, with varying degrees of success.

Colonial powers and the patriarchy may deny the reality of their colonies and of women, but that reality nonetheless exists. As Rachel Price says, "The way I see Africa, you don't have to like it but you sure have to admit it's out there."

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review 2018-04-30 21:52
Smilla's Sense of Snow / Peter Høeg
Smilla's Sense of Snow - Peter Høeg,Tiina Nunnally

She thinks more highly of snow and ice than she does of love.  She lives in a world of numbers, science and memories--a dark, exotic stranger in a strange land.  And now Smilla Jaspersen is convinced she has uncovered a shattering crime...

It happened in the Copenhagen snow.  A six-year-old boy, a Greenlander like Smilla, fell to his death from the top of his apartment building.  While the boy's body is still warm, the police pronounce his death an accident.  But Smilla knows her young neighbor didn't fall from the roof on his own.  Soon she is following a path of clues as clear to her as footsteps in the snow.  For her dead neighbor, and for herself, she must embark on a harrowing journey of lies, revelation and violence that will take her back to the world of ice and snow from which she comes, where an explosive secret waits beneath the ice.

 

Actual rating: 3.5 stars.

 

I can see why this is on so many of the “Books You Must Read” lists—it is not your typical Nordic Noir.  In fact, it may have helped to define that genre.  Høeg gives us a mystery, but certainly not the now-stereotypical format of a mystery story.  For one thing, Smilla is a civilian, not associated with the police in any way.  Also, the mysterious aspect of this story doesn’t really seem to be the centre of the work—I think that Høeg was much more interested in the colonial relationship between Denmark and Greenland than in who killed the child, Isaiah.

 

It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Stieg Larsson had read Smilla before he wrote his Millennium series.  Lisbeth Salander seems to have many similarities to Smilla Jaspersen.  Neither of them fits into Scandinavian society.  Both of them have technical expertise not necessarily expected in women, Salander in computers, Jaspersen in glaciology.  Both of them take physical punishment during the course of the story but it doesn’t deter them from their goals—they seem unstoppable.

 

Smilla is the perfect main character for exploring the Danish colonial situation—her mother is Greenlandic Inuit and her father is a rich & famous Danish doctor.  She has a foot in both worlds.  She is educated, but ironically in glaciology, specializing in ice & snow.  Cue the old myth that the Inuit have over 100 words for snow—and Smilla references quite a few of them during the course of the book.  The supposed result of having so many terms for snow was a greater understanding of that substance, and Smilla is the one who interprets Isaiah’s footprints in the snow to reveal that he was murdered.

 

Interesting in its historical place of inspiring the current genre of Nordic Noir and for its exploration of colonialism, but not the most satisfying murder mystery.

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text 2018-04-23 14:58
Reading progress update: I've read 155 out of 469 pages.
Smilla's Sense of Snow - Peter Høeg,Tiina Nunnally

Not typical Nordic Noir.  Smilla is a civilian and not your typical Dane.  It took me 100 pages before I thought, "Okay, I like this."  Much more literary than your average murder mystery.

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text 2018-03-11 00:58
Still Reading
1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up - Julia Eccleshare

So, I stopped posting reviews here after #70 last year. I did manage to read 100 books in 2017, but getting them reviewed, let alone posting the reviews in two places, proved to be too much for me. I knew that "something would have to give" when I became a mom in July, but it's still hard to actually make those choices and decide what to let go.

 

I am not letting go of this blog, but I will no longer cross-post all my Goodreads reviews here. You can still read them on my Goodreads page, of course.

 

Although I am writing less about books these days, I am still pursuing various book-ish projects. They include --

 

  • The 2018 PopSugar Reading Challenge - Just for fun; I am not going to be crushed if I don't manage to complete it.
  • The Into the Forest Reading Challenge - Into the Forest is a Goodreads group I belong to for fairy tale/mythology enthusiasts. They do a 12-item challenge every year within the genre that is fun to keep me reading widely within one of my favorite book categories.
  • 1001 Books to You Must Read Before You Grow Up - I am working my way through the recommended books in this tome with my son. Right now we are just focusing on the age 0-3 chapter. I am really surprised by how many of these books are NOT in my public library! My plan is to buy my son a big box of any of the books we weren't able to find in the library at the end of the chapter. In the meantime, I've also begun scouring used booksales to help fill in the gap.
  • The cookbook project - In an attempt to actually USE more of my cookbooks, feed my family well, and save money on eating out, I've been marking recipes I want to try since I was pregnant. I rate every recipe I try, and eventually hope to pare down my cookbook collection by getting rid of the books with only a handful of intriguing recipes after I have tried them.

 

I am also working on a "book adjacent" project, which is listening to all 150 albums on NPR's women's music canon. The reason I consider this to be a book-adjacent project is because a) I am getting most of these albums from my local library and b) I am listening to a lot more music these days because my son is more content on drives with music than audiobooks. I am sad to have fewer audiobooks in this season of my life, but I am excited to start exploring music again, and to, you know, have a baby.

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