Tuesday, September 09, 2014

jumping back in with ToT

Somewhere in there I've lost a month and a little blogging mojo went missing as well.  I've been thinking about writing a couple of posts, one about weaving and the other about books.  Since Carole's Ten on Tuesday is about books, that seems like the perfect place to jump in.

The assignment is to list 10 books that have stayed with you long after you've read them. 
(The links are LibraryThing links)  My ten are in no particular oder.  They are just books that I sometimes find myself thinking about every now and then.

1.  Evidence of Things Unseen by Marianne Wiggins This story about love and relationships takes place in the time between World Wars I & II in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee to the shore of North Carolina.  The language and imagery is beautiful even in the ugly parts of the story.

2. Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden is a story about two Canadian Cree youths who go off to fight in France in WWI.  The story is told from two viewpoints: Xavier, one of the youths and Niska, the aunt who raised him in the Canadian bush in the early part of the twentieth century.  This is an astonishingly well written novel that takes the reader into the Canadian bush and the experiences of first nations people as well as into the trenches in France.  It was a book I could not put down and continue to think about after first reading it in 2009.

3. Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson (or anything by Per Petterson, for that matter).
This is a beautifully written story about the coming of age of a 15 year  old boy in post-WWII Norway and later, his 67 year old self coming to terms with the loss of his father and his innocence 52 years before.  Trond retires to a cabin in the woods by a lake 3 years after losing his wife in a tragic accident and his sister to cancer.  His motivation for this retreat is unveiled as he chronicles his hours in the remote location and recalls the summer of 1948 in a similar location.
The story moves back and forth in time and narrative often winds back on itself, repeating lines and phrases to reveal deeper meanings.  One such line is when Trond's father tells him "you decide when it hurts."  What he doesn't tell him is that you can't get away from the hurt altogether.  It will surface, if not now then later.

4. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.  A beautifully written story about hope and despair in 1970's India.  The scale of the story involving four main characters is sweeping.  The plot development and characterizations made me think of the author as a contemporary, Indian Dickens (now there's an image!).  Is there a balance between hope and despair?  Only in the indomitable spirit of some of the characters.

5. The Vagrants by Yiyun Li This novel is set in a small city created as a Communist outpost settlement during the Cultural Revolution.  The time of the novel is 1979, when the Communist party was turning away from Mao and the revolution, yet still holding a tight grip on the lives of the people.
The critical event in the novel is the execution of Shan Gu...a 27 year old woman who was once a fervent supporter of the cultural revolution then began to think differently and wrote against it in letters to a lover who betrayed her.  Hence her execution as a counter revolutionary.
The author creates the story by braiding the strands of several lives in this small town  which are connected through the life and actions of Shan Gu.
There are many themes here: personal and political, moral ambiguity, love and betrayal, what makes a family. 
The book is beautifully written.  One must read to the end to begin to understand the title.

6. The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt: This is an epic piece about the Wellwood family and their contemporaries in England during the last decades of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.  It's a heavily populated novel and I found that I had to create a list of characters at the beginning of the book to help me keep it straight.  Yet long after reading it, I find myself still thinking about some of the characters. This was a time of huge political, technological, and social changes and A.S. Byatt is the perfect author for researching and accurately including her research in the story.  There is Fabianism, the building of the Victoria & Albert Musem, the Paris Exposition....and the list goes on.  The story is cloaked in fairy tales as a reflection of the era...Peter Pan, Wind in the Willows.  I learned so much that I didn't know about this time period when I read this book in 2010 that I recently decided to read Barbara Tuchman's Proud Tower in order to learn more and gain a better understanding.

7.  The Geography of Bliss:  One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner  This book is an entertaining journey from beginning to end.  Eric Weiner uses his experience as a foreign correspondent to explore happiness, a topic not often in the news.  With the help of social science research, he sets out to explore those areas which contain populations identified as happy.  For balance he throws in Moldova, a country identified as one of the unhappiest places in the world.
Weiner sprinkles his narrative with social science, history, politics, economics, and even a bit of cultural anthropology.  This  makes for interesting reading.  He not only observes but interacts with the locals and he often finds an expatriate to give the unique perspective of someone from the outside who is  inside the culture.  His unique perspective on what he observes is quirky and entertaining.

8. Truth & Beauty: A Friendship by Ann Patchett  This is a memoir of the author's friendship with Lucy Grealy who was left with facial deformities after being treated for cancer of the jaw at the age of 9.  Ann was aware of Lucy when they both attended Sarah Lawrence College, but became friends when they attended the Iowa Writers Workshop.  The story raises a lot of questions about physical appearance and its impact on destiny and psychic pain and the trauma experienced by survivors of severe childhood illnesses.  Ann Patchett revisits this topic and the reactions to Truth & Beauty in her recent book This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.

9. Love and Summer by William Trevor  This was the first of William Trevor's writing that I read.  The Story of Lucy Gault received more attention, but I liked this one better.  This story of love, loss, relationships, and imagination is sparely written with volumes left between the lines.  I am still astounded at how an author can intimately capture and convey a small town like Rathmoye, the relationships between brother and sister, husband and wife, and even strangers to town with so few words in a plot driven story.

10. Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood  Is the story of Elaine Risley, who grew up in Toronto right after WWII. She returns as an established feminist artist, for a retrospective of her work. Returning to Toronto brings up many childhood issues. As a young girl, she was in a difficult bullying situation, which still haunts her.  The story is told of the three girls involved in the bullying relationship and their mothers at that time.  The narrative covers a variety of themes; gender roles; art; the quirks of memory; aging and sexuality. The characters are well drawn and the writing is excellent.  If bullying among 10 year old girls doesn't interest you, then read what adult women will do in The Robber Bride.

And if you've read this far....that's my ToT...soon I will post more about weaving.

5 comments:

  1. Oh great list Valerie, and none but one are on my to read list. You can bet I'll be adding a few!

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  2. That challenge just went around on Facebook. I was surprised how hard it was to narrow my list down to ten. Cat's Eye was on mine too and I led off the list with Shipping News. I just read The Woman Upstairs with my book group and suspect it's going to be another book that will stick to my ribs.

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  3. Gosh, I do admire your weaving! And your ability to remember ten books sufficuiently clearly to write about them. I'm with you an "A fine Balance" which I found very moving. What about "Cold Mountain" by Charles Frazier? That would be in my top five, along with "The Shipping News".

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    1. Yes, Shandy, I agree that Cold Mountain and Shipping News were both memorable novels. The characters stay with you a long time after reading those books.

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tie in the loose ends...