Saturday, December 15, 2018

Prius or Pickup? How the Answers to Four Simple Questions Explain America’s Great Divide, by Marc Hetherington & Jonathan Weiler. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018

Hetherington & Weiler put forth the theory that there are two types of people: fixed, and fluid. The fixed have a world view of danger: people and nature are out to get them. Fluid folks, on the other hand, find the world a delightful place to explore, filled with good people. Fixed people drive giant four wheel drive pickups or Hummers, keep big dogs, and prefer plain coffee from Dunkin Donuts over fancy Starbucks concoctions. Fluid folks drive small cars that are less damaging to the environments, like cats, and love trying new cuisines. Oh, and fixed people tend to live rural, while fluids congregate in the city. Most people are NOT pure forms of either, but land somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Now, there is nothing wrong with being on either end of the spectrum, but… in America, these tendencies are being used by the major parties to divide people and gain support. This is what’s behind the growing chasm between Democrats and Republicans. The Republican Party stresses the dangers in the world, and that they are the only candidates that can protect the people of the USA; Democrats try to say they are supporting programs like the ACA that will benefit all classes. Now, this is a broad brush to paint the political/sociological scene with, but it seems, in most cases to be true.

And it’s getting worse- the two sides don’t get together very often. If the fixeds and the fluids worked together, partied together, went to school together, they would learn that the other side isn’t really the bunch of idiots they think they are. Hard to do when the Powers That Be try to demonize the other side.

Are they right about this? Yes, I think- partly. The chasm between sides is getting worse every day. And it’s obvious that the divide is being used by said Powers That Be. Is it quite as simple as that? Well, no, I don’t think so. There are a lot of other things affecting the world. But this book is a great start to understanding the problems. The one problem I see is that the authors are clearly biased towards one side; it happens to be the side I mostly fall into, but it’s going to make it harder for the side they are against to take the book seriously. Four stars.

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Other Side of Elsewhere, by Brett McKay. RedAdeptPublishing, 2018

Twelve year old Ret is enjoying summer, other than the fact that his father works two jobs and is never home, while his mother works only one job but is exhausted from taking care of everything at home. He and his friends Gary & Jax are doing jumps and stunts with their bicycles on Dead Man’s Hill, when an older boy suggests they spend the night in the Crooked House. This is an abandoned old house that everyone says is haunted. So what to 12 year old boys do when given a dare that could be dangerous? They accept it, of course. Imagine their horror when real paranormal events happen!

This could best be described as a supernatural coming-of-age story. Ret goes through a lot as the summer goes on- more paranormal events; fear of the local mortician’s new employee, who Ret ends up working with; a family shakeup; people start disappearing. Then climax is extremely tense and well done. It’s a great middle school book, and I enjoyed it a great deal as an adult. Four stars.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Once Upon a River, by Diane Setterfield. Simon & Schuster, 2018

At some point in the 1800s, on the long night of the winter solstice, people gathered at the Swann and hoisted pints and told stories. Then the door bursts open, and in comes a large man with his face horribly mangled, carrying a small child. He falls on the floor in a dead faint, and at first the people think they are both dead. But the man breathes, and so Rita Sunday, the village healer, sews him up and puts him to bed. The child is dead; she is removed to an outbuilding. Rita feels compelled to try and figure out how she died, only to find that the girl is also alive.

Of course this event sets people talking.  Three sets of people think the girl is their missing relative. The girl gives no clues; she doesn’t talk, and seems content to go with any of them. How the village people work out who gets her, and the machinations that some characters go through trying to use her to solve their problems, makes for a wonderful multi-thread story. There are hints of magical realism or fantasy; there is a mythical ferryman on the river, and the Thames almost seems to be a character. It’s a slow but well-knit tale. The characters are very well done; my heart broke for some of them. Five stars.

Monday, December 10, 2018

In the Night Wood, by Dale Bailey. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018

This story is almost over the top gothic. It begins with a husband and wife, Charles and Erin Hayden, inheriting a fortune and a huge manor house in England, one surrounded with primeval forest. They are a miserable pair; he had an affair with a co-worker, their daughter died as a direct result of this, his academic career is stalled, and the wife has retreated into a haze of alcohol and prescription drugs. They hope this move will help them move on, but the house belonged to Caedmon Hollow, who wrote a Victorian dark fairy tale that Charles has been obsessed with since childhood. Erin is the last survivor of the family

They find the place unsettling; they see images of their dead daughter everywhere. The forest is moving closer to the house. Charles, looking into the past to write a biography of Caedmon Hollow, meets Silva, the head of the village’s historical society. She’s an intelligent and attractive woman, and her daughter is almost a carbon copy of Charles’ and Erin’s dead daughter. You can see where this might head. The whole situation is a great set up for supernatural horror.

Sadly, I ended up not caring for the book very much. Charles is an unlikable main character, even though he’s supposed to be seeking redemption. Erin is a mere shadow of a person. The other characters start with great potential, but end up just props for Charles. The ‘feel’ of the story is wonderfully full of dread, as the unknown closes in. I loved the use of Celtic mythology. Charles and Erin’s grief is portrayed beautifully, if that word can be used for grief. But the end came rushing too suddenly; it was tied up as if the author had a deadline to meet. I give it four stars for gothic suspense; can’t give it five because of the main characters.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay. Harper Perennial, 2014

Roxane Gay, New York Times opinion writer and university professor, writes about feminism, fat acceptance, homophobia, racism, sexual violence, kink, pop culture, and a lot more in this collection of essays. She doesn’t come across as a know it all like some essayists do; she consistently admits to her own failings and prejudices. She’s funny and insightful at times; heartbreaking at others. Her own brutal gang rape at age twelve is fodder for her writing, as is 50 Shades of Grey and Twilight. The book is a mixed bag.

I have seen a lot of reviewers criticizing this book. One, for the writing not adhering to regular essay format but rather being more like blog posts. Yes, this is true. But I don’t feel that detracts from the content, and they are easy to read and digest. There is a trend among people today to glance at a more formal looking piece and think ‘tl;dr’. The other complaint I’ve seen is that a lot of them are on pop culture. I don’t see why this is a problem. Pop culture is what people are reading/watching. It’s what’s influencing people. Pop culture needs to be written and thought about. She doesn’t solve the feminist problem- she considers herself a bad feminist because she likes pink and she’s not a man-hating, angry woman. Well, I’m a bad feminist, too, despite being right out of the 1970s feminist wave. I, too, like pink, and I love makeup (I am angry, though, a lot of the time).

I loved this book. Is not only funny and thoughtful, she puts herself out there. I came across this book by happenstance, but I’m going to look for her other work now.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Member of the Wedding, by Carson McCullers. Bantam, 1946

During WW 2, 12 year old Frankie Addams lives in a small Southern town, and she is bored. Really bored. Her mother died giving birth to her, and her father is extremely distant. The other girls her age bully and ostracize her. Her only company is her six year old cousin John Henry, and the housekeeper Berenice Sadie Brown, a woman of color.  She wishes people could shift between male and female at will; Berenice wishes everyone was the same color. Over a few days in August, Frankie experiences some harsh things that could change how she lives her life.

When the family gets word that Frankie’s older brother will be coming home to be married, and will then have a short honeymoon before returning to his military unit, Frankie fixates on that event as the one thing that will save her. Both her brother and his fiancĂ© have first names that start with J, so Frankie adopts the name Jasmine. She starts packing, in the belief that after the wedding, they will take her with them on their honeymoon and they will all live together. Although she tells this to everyone, only Berenice bothers to tell her that won’t happen. Told to go buy a dress for the wedding, she chooses one that is totally inappropriate for her age. That leads to some adventures on its own. Then comes the wedding… 

Although I sympathized with Frankie’s loneliness and frustration, I couldn’t stand how she made the wedding all about herself. I also disliked how she treated Berenice. Is she a bad child? No, she’s just ignored and left to grow up basically on her own. She’s on the verge of becoming a young woman, and no one is giving her clues on how to behave. A very well done coming of age story, but kind of hard to read, watching Frankie.

Friday, December 7, 2018

A Medieval Book of Seasons, by Marie Collins & Virginia Davis. HarperCollins, 1992

This is a lovely book – over size but fairly thin. The authors take us through the seasons as described from writings and shown in art from the medieval period. It starts, appropriately enough, with spring, and works its way through the year. Every page has illustrations, all from the era (no modern drawings of what someone *thought* folks did back then).

Life was very different back then; except for the upper class, pretty much everyone engaged in manual labor, all year round. People worked when sunlight was available, and then probably dropped into sleep as soon as they hit the … well, what passed for beds. Spring was pretty much a celebration of having survived winter (a celebration with lots of hard work, but, still, it was a happy time).

The illustrations are beautiful; most come from Books of Hours and illuminated manuscripts. This is not a scholarly book, but one aimed to interest people in the period. The authors touch on a multitude of areas: food, agriculture, health ideas and treatments, leisure, and more. The illustrations also show what type of clothing was worn by the various classes.