Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Recent Reads

Wish I Could Be There. Allen Shawn, son of former "New Yorker" editor William Shawn, writes about life as a phobic. He explains the physiology of the in terms that make it all very comprehensible. He tells of the factors that impacted on his life, factors that he believes contributed to his agoraphobia. His parents each had "issues" and his father definitely suffered from phobias. In addition, his father led a secret life separate from the family, a life that was known but never mentioned. Most touching are the parts where Shawn writes about his autistic twin sister, Mary.
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This is an excellent book and I'd recommend it to anyone who knows a phobic person and wants to develop a better understanding. My dearest friend is agoraphobic and -- as I wrote earlier when I first found this book -- I had been less than totally sympathetic to her situation, somehow believing that she should be able to get a grip, to get over it. This book has made me a better friend.
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Later this month, the neighborhood book group will discuss Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. I sped right through this book, eager to see the story develop. In a culture where marriages are arranged through a broker and it seems unusual for real love to develop between a couple, the significant relationships for women are with their "sworn sisters" or "old sames." Lily, the protagonist of this story, forms a beautiful bond with Snow Flower, beginning as small children. Secrets, misunderstandings, and betrayal form the plot.
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It was difficult to read the details of the foot binding process. It was hard to imagine women who had undergone this horrible experience visiting it upon their daughters -- it made me think of the genital mutilation we read about in certain cultures today. Careful reading and thinking enabled me to understand that as hideous as the foot binding was, this was the one possible way a mother could attempt to assure a good future for her daughter. This book will surely provide good discussion.
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On Beauty was the book group's choice for May. It is interesting that it is always the books that no one really liked very much that provide for the most discussion! I've not read very many books that are about contemporary middle-class African-American families, so I pressed on with this one even though I did not like many of the characters. They lacked credibility. Two of the women were supposedly remarkable beauties -- one a shallow young twenty-something, and the other a mother of adult children, who had gained an enormous amount of weight. Infidelity abounds, as does scheming and self-centeredness Some of the minor characters were the most interesting, and our feeling as that we got to know them a little better than the two main jousting families. All-in-all, however, I can't recommend this as a good read.
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Several years ago, someone referred me to Naslund's novel, Ahab's Wife, and I just loved it. I hadn't been following her since then, and was delighted last week to stumble on a table at Barnes and Noble featuring Abundance, her novel of Marie Antoinette.
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History is not my strong suit, and I knew nothing at all about Marie Antoinette other than the fictitious "Let them eat cake" statement. The book is well-written and fascinating, about a self-absorbed young teenager who was practically set-up to fail. She is portrayed as more dense than deliberate. I'm about 50 pages from finished, and I give it a B+.

3 comments:

Morah said...

Thanks for the book reviews. I am always looking for a good book and now I have some recommendations.

QuiltingFitzy said...

Great reviews, wow! You do what I consider heavy reading. What I read is pure fluff. Not bodice rippers, but certainly of no educational value, lol.

Thanks for your input.

Nicole said...

I listened to the Snow Flower and the Secret Fan book on my commute, and I tell you I hated it when I got to my destination and had to stop listening. It was such a compelling story, and the foot binding description made me break into a sweat.