Wednesday, July 24, 2013

She's Baaaaccckkkk!

This has been one of the most frustrating, tedious web adventures for me so far, but as of 1:29 a.m. on Wednesday (Is it Wednesday?), I finally have my domain name back--and working.  Many thanks to the patient gentleman who just finished troubleshooting.

I have plenty of catching up to do now, but this week I am at the Swannanoa Gathering Old Time Music and Dance Week at Warren Wilson College, so I won't be getting much reading done.  However, since I've finished eleven books in July so far, I have lots to share soon:  Jess Walter's The Financial Lives of Poets (very funny and nothing like his novel Beautiful Ruins); Jeanette Walls' The Silver Star, her first novel after her two nonfiction works, The Glass Castle and Half-Broke Horses; Peter Heller's The Dog Star (for anyone in the mood for a dark little mid-apocalyptic novel); Becoming Odyssa, Jennifer Pharr Davis' memoir of her adventures on the Appalachian Trail; The Fault in Our Stars, John Green's wonderful YA novel--and there are plenty more.  I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

...and not a minute too soon: And the Mountains Echoed.

I just got off the phone with Go Daddy, and I now have both my .com and .net domains until 2023.  (If you're still reading then and think I've lost my marbles, please take steps to stop my posting!)

For such a busy July, I have been reading voraciously (last count, ten books so far this month--and anyone who knows me knows I haven't been lying around the house!)  My selections have been completely diverse (as are the ones I'm reading now).  I must work in reverse chronological order:

I just finished Khaled Hosseini's third novel And the Mountains Echoed. So far, he's three for three, as far as I'm concerned.  The Kite Runner probably received more publicity (and the movie deal), but I thought the next one A Thousand Splendid Suns was at least as good, maybe better.

This time, I opted for audio for two reasons: (1. It was available at the library; (2. the author's reading the parts with a male narrator. Let me make that three: (3. I heard from another reading friend who'd just finished listening and loved it.  I did too.

This novel, set mainly but not exclusively in Afghanistan, covers several decades and several main characters, whose lives overlap, sometimes directly, sometimes tangentially.  Overall, though, it is a family story, looking closely at several parent-child and sibling relationships.  If I were to ask whose story this is, I'd be at a loss, since the focus shifts. It begins and ends with the relationship between Abdullah and his sister Pari. Along the way, I kept hearing this little crack, which I recognized as my heart breaking--over and over.. Even the folktale the father tells in the beginning had that effect.

In some cases I saw people faced with impossible choices for which there was no good solution. Other characters, though, managed not to do the right thing, sometimes through selfishness and others through procrastination. One of the most gut-wrenching parts for me was the story of a young Afghan man who returns to the country of his childhood after living successfully in California. He forms a strong bond with a young girl he meets in a hospital and leaves with the best of intentions to help her. But he doesn't.

I read an article recently in the Charlotte Observer about some of the great fiction that has come out of North Carolina (and I agree).  The final point, though, was the value of reading fiction--it's power to build empathy in readers.  Every time I read Hosseini, I feel myself a part of a world that becomes increasingly smaller.


Thursday, July 11, 2013


"I've always depended on the kindness of strangers."  --Blanche DuBois, A Streetcar Named Desire.

I am still looking for records because I feel certain I renewed my blog domain in May, but as of two days ago, when I go directly to, I find nothing.  My dependable techie expert at least helped me find who owns it now, and I tracked her down in her car somewhere between Texas (where she lives) and somewhere else. She seemed nice enough (for someone who has a program that automatically buys up lapsed domain names) and promises to get back to me when she gets home to resolve this issue.

I don't know if all my all posts will be there or now.  For the time being, I think I'm going to post back here at my blogger site (if I have successfully re-redirected it. This, you see, is a test post.)

Maybe I'll just start keeping a diary and sending more handwritten letters again.  We will see.

I will keep you posted. No pun intended.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

A Book Book

There's an up side and a down side to reading a book about books.  On one hand, it's about reading; on the other, by the end, my "need to read" list had grown again.

I first heard of Will Schwalbe's memoir in an article he wrote for the New York Times, I believe, describing the "book club for two" he shared with his mother while waiting with her for her treatments after she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  Schwalbe was an avid reader from childhood, growing up in a family of readers.  The time he spent with his mother, especially once she faced chemotherapy, naturally lead to talk about what they were reading. They decided to choose books to read and discuss together over the course of what was more than a year of her illness. 

They alternated between recent publications and classics, mostly but not entirely fiction.  Often each would choose a title, and they would swap the two before discussing them. Among the titles they shared were Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge, Alan Bennett's The Uncommon Reader, Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral, Lahiri's short story collection Unaccustomed Earth, Geraldine Brooks' People of the Book, Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture, and Sheila Weller's Girls Like Us, all books I'd read and enjoyed, many with my book club.  They also read Maugham, John O'Hara, Joan Didion, Alice Munro and many more. 

Along with their readings, he writes about his own reading life and their discussion of other books, stories, and poems they had read--Mary Oliver, Lewis Carol, Nancy Drew and Gone With the Wind.  Throughout the time they have together, his mother's spiritual faith counters his own doubt or disinterest in religion.  She keeps her copy of Daily Strength for Daily Needs by Mary Tileston throughout her illness, a year's worth of daily devotions.  Their reading often deals with death, though he is often reluctant to talk about his mother's own imminent death.  He also reads material that help him to consider how best to bring up topics.  (Don't, for instance, ask a terminally ill person "How are you doing?"  Ask, instead, "Would you like me to ask how you are feeling today?")

The book provides much good for thought, not only about reading and death but life, love, family, and faith. As I read, I not only marked passages to which I hoped to return, but I started my own list in the back of works mentioned that I wanted to read myself.  Once I reached the end, I found that the author had thoughtfully included a list of works discussed, which I would have found if, like Schwalbe's mother, I had always chosen to read the end first.


Friday, July 5, 2013

Hooked Again

I'm usually reluctant to start a series, even one that's highly acclaimed, because of the commitment it imposes. I read the first Harry Potter before I knew there was or would be a second Harry Potter.  I made it through all three books of the Hunger Games trilogy, but only the first of the Twilight series.  I never started the Fifty Shades of Grey.

My introduction to Game of Thrones, however, came from my younger son, who'd first discovered the HBO series and gave me a copy of the first book of William R. R. Martin's series for some occasion more than a year ago.  I started it then while on a road trip, but I was unable to devote the concentration and attention to remember all the characters and keep them straight.  But he kept asking me about it.  Some of my students who were avid readers kept asking if I'd read them. 

When I found the audiobook in at the library, I decided to try again--a 28-CD set.  Daunting.  This time, though, even though I was listening instead of reading, I managed to separate the threads of the story, to figure out the relationships between all the families involved in this make-believe world.  Halfway through, though, I was taking a long drive with my husband, and I knew he wouldn't be interested in listening with me to the second half of a book he hadn't begun reading, so I pulled the paperback off the shelf and took it along. 

As much as I read and as many audiobooks as I consume, I rarely engage in this hybrid form.  It confirmed what I've suspected all along: it makes little difference how I engage with a book. Reading or listening works for me.  When I take that little online test "The Brain," my audio and visual preference dot usually winds up dead center.  Aside from having to shift from hearing the names to seeing their spelling, I made the transfer easily.  Since I'd devoted a good chunk of my free-reading summer to the book, I was eager to finish it--finally.  To my chagrin, I realize now that I am ready for Book Two.