Tag Archives: fiction

An Irish Country Doctor

Irish Country Doctor Cover

Book type: FIction

Summary: Dr. Barry Laverty, fresh out of medical school, finds himself in the countryside of Northern Ireland as an apprentice to Dr. Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly, General Practitioner to the villagers of fictional Ballybucklebo. And as it generally goes in life, what he learned in school isn’t quite how the real world works. He’s frequently disappointed or upset by the methods used by Dr. O’Reilly, but he also learns a lot in his first few months as the senior doctor’s sidekick. He even comes to appreciate the small world of Ballybucklebo, with its eccentric residents–both humans and animals, like O’Reilly’s dog that humps his leg every time he ventures into the backyard. Life in provincial Ulster has its lessons for Barry and has some for us too.

Lessons:

  1. Don’t worry about the consideration of others. Early on in Barry’s introduction to Ballybucklebo, he discovers the dynamic between the country doctor and country villagers isn’t what he expected. One of the first lessons O’Reilly gives him is to never let the patients get the upper hand. At first this seems antithetical to the point of practicing medicine in Barry’s mind, however O’Reilly then tells him that if he didn’t operate the way he does, they would walk all over him, saying: “‘Didn’t take me long to find out that consideration for other people can be one of the lesser attributes of some members of the species Homo sapiens‘” (80). This lesson has an actual application that hits close to home for me, or at least for my brother. Recently my brother told me a story of how our grandmother, when she was still living, had given him some sound advice. He was concerned about how other people would think of him for something seemingly trivial. She stopped him and said, “If you knew how little other people think of you it would hurt your feelings.” Zinger! But really, stop being worried about whether other people consider you or whether they’re considerate to you. As the popular wisdom goes: go ‘head girl, you do you. That’s an Emerson quote, if I’m not mistaken.
    Emerson Quote - Be Yourself
  2. Sometimes life makes you shovel shit. Barry has a friend in the novel, Jack, who is a surgeon at the nearest hospital and he sometimes meets him for dinner or drinks. During one such visit they reminisce about life during medical school and how boring so many things were that they had to do as students, and how boring things continued even after they finished school. Jack reminds Barry of the words of an English registrar from their time there (after he complained to her about his boredom): “‘Old boy, in this life there will always be a certain amount of shit to be shovelled. I really would urge you to buy a long-handled spade and simply get on with it'” (99). This is a valuable lesson for all of us. Some people hate household chores, others hate workplace politics, still others hate family or social obligations. The fact is that either you can refuse to participate in any of those things and have a) no clean underwear, b) no possibility of being promoted, and c) no family/friends, or you can man/woman up and start shoveling that shit.
    Dog Lesson - Kick Grass Shit
  3. Advice doesn’t always have to be true to be helpful. Not long after Barry starts his work with Dr. O’Reilly, he has a day off and takes the train into Belfast and happens to meet a woman named Patricia who utterly captivates him. Unfortunately, she’s also a very serious student of engineering and doesn’t think she has the time or energy to spend cultivating a relationship with Barry, so their courtship ends. Barry, being the hopeless romantic that he is–and I do mean hopeless–is having a hard time getting over the loss of his soulmate. Compounding his sorrow is the fact that he made a misdiagnosis of a local resident, Major Fotheringham’s symptoms, resulting in his hospitalization and a difficult recovery. O’Reilly gives him some advice: “‘So finish your whiskey. […] Forget about Fotheringham. Forget about your heart. Girls are like buses. There’s always another one along soon.'” Barry then asks O’Reilly if he really believes what he’s just said: “‘No,’ said O’Reilly, ‘but there’s no reason you shouldn’t'” (238). Even though O’Reilly doesn’t believe it and even though it may be trite, his advice isn’t necessarily unsound. There’s a reason clichés become just that: sometimes the advice is good, but it’s cited so frequently that it loses its power. Sometimes those sentiments just need to be rephrased to be useful (i.e. instead of “plenty of fish in the sea,” comparing love interests to buses) and sometimes advice doesn’t have to hold true to help someone through a difficult moment.

A final review/recommendation:

Taylor, an established doctor himself, does a great job of creating a backdrop for the education of Barry Laverty. In some ways An Irish Country Doctor is almost a Bildungsroman, except instead of being the coming of age of an adolescent boy, it’s of a nascent doctor. The book is very simple, much like many of Ballybucklebo’s residents, but like them it’s simple in the best of ways: unpretentious, relatable, and entertaining. The first book in a series of many, An Irish Country Doctor is a quick read and makes for great spring reading, so next time March comes around and you’re considering an Irish book for St. Paddy’s day, pick up Taylor’s novel and be entertained by witticisms like this one about a “change of heart” that’s happened to a character named Councillor Bishop: “‘Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. That bugger Bertie Bishop? That man has a heart that would make Pharaoh’s hard one look like a marshmallow, so he has'” (302). And if you’re a reader you’ll appreciate the two doctors’ constant quoting of literature. And if you’re like me, you’ll smile ear to ear for the fact that Dr. O’Reilly is named after the fabulous and somewhat supercilious Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde–the greatest of the great.

Photo credits:

Book cover: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-P-4GrrorB-4/Uxe1N1vaEAI/AAAAAAAAS5A/MRaOfdl-rUo/s1600/IrishCtryDr.jpg
Sassy Emerson: http://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0273/4903/products/ralph-waldo-emerson-fridge-magnet-1_large.jpg?v=1380467104
Kick That Shit: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/474x/a3/26/91/a326913fd2e35c68d5d8b9016acafe95.jpg

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Amsterdam

Amsterdam CoverBook type: Fiction

Summary: Molly Lane has just died. A middle-aged woman who captured the hearts of several men in her day, she ended up with a rapid-onset neurological disease that quickly destroyed her body and her mind. Now, in the wake of her death, the men intimately related to one another through her magnetism find themselves reacting to her death in different ways. Two of them, Clive Linley and Vernon Halliday (the former a noted composer and the latter a journalist and editor), struggle to continue on with their daily lives in the face of life’s absurdity. Clive must finish his long-expected symphony and Vernon must save his failing publication The Judge. But on top of their work, they have to learn to live or die with each other in the absence of Molly.

Lessons:

  1. Don’t make excuses for showing up late, just show up on time. At one point, Clive ruminates on the annoying nature of many artists who think that their “genius” is an excuse for being inconsiderate jerks: “He had a number of friends who played the genius card when it suited, failing to show up for this or that in the belief that whatever local upset it caused, it could only increase respect for the compelling nature of their high calling. These types–novelists were by far the worst–managed to convince friends and families that not only their working hours but every nap and stroll, every fit of silence, depression, or drunkenness, bore the exculpatory ticket of high intent. A mask for mediocrity, was Clive’s view. He didn’t doubt that the calling was high, but bad behavior was not a part of it” (66). This doesn’t just apply to artistic types. If you’re the friend or family member who’s constantly late for get togethers, then news flash: your friends and family are annoyed. It shouldn’t be the responsibility of other people to bump the meeting time up a half hour just so that you’ll hopefully show up on time, or at the very least, only 15 minutes late instead of an hour. Stop being late. No one wants to hear an excuse when they’ve heard one each of the last 5 times they’ve seen you. It doesn’t matter if you’re busy (everyone is), it doesn’t matter if you’re important (again, everyone is). With the exception of a “science oven” fire like Jennifer Lawrence caused in American Hustle, or a 15-car pileup on your way, there’s no reason why you can’t just leave on time.

    American Hustle Science Oven

    “Oh God, I’m going to be late for the velour runway show with Rhonda. Hopefully she’ll believe me when I tell her the science oven caught fire.”

  2. Create a plan for when you’re struggling. This sounds abstract, but it’s simple. In Clive’s case, being a composer meant that he periodically would hit major creative roadblocks. If you’ve done something for a long time, you’ve likely gotten through difficult times by doing something that worked or helped. “Sometimes the work was hard, and you had to do whatever experience had taught you was most effective” (66). This applies to work and our personal lives. If we pay enough attention, we’ll find patterns that help us overcome obstacles. (One suggestion from my last article on The Name of the Rose was to take a bath/shower if you’re feeling stressed.) Maybe you get overwhelmed at work and taking a walk helps clear your mind. Maybe you feel lonely at home when you’re by yourself and you listen to the radio or a podcast and that helps. Or maybe when you are low on funds you help someone else out to remind yourself that your bank account isn’t everything. Whatever it is, pay attention to the patterns you try. Then when all else fails, see if the pattern helps.
  3. Try writing an alternate ending. Vernon’s publication The Judge is about to publish a scandal involving one of Molly’s former acquaintances, a man who just happens to be the Foreign Secretary for the British government. Anticipating that anything might happen after the story runs, the newspaper prepares a follow-up article in the event that Foreign Secretary Julian Garmony kills himself. Now, while their article is obviously a bit macabre, it’s not a bad idea to write an alternate storyline for your life if you’re feeling unsatisfied. Perhaps imagining yourself as something you might rather be will help you determine whether you need to make changes in order to live that life or whether you’re actually happy with your current situation. In an upcoming entry I’ll talk more about how your alternate path might be the one you really need to be on and how to get there.

    Maybe the something else you want to be is a T-Rex. Go 'head, do you.

    Maybe the something else you want to be is a T-Rex. Go ‘head, do you.

  4. When you get mad, get to work. Clive has been working on his symphony for months and has been having a good go of it lately, until he and his old friend Vernon get into an argument and hurtful words pass between them. Clive determines then that what he needs to do is get back to what matters to him, his work. “Work–quiet, determined, triumphant work, then–would be a kind of revenge” (149). Many people, when faced with irritations or blunders, get angry and shut down. They lose all their productivity. Those who are focused on their goals, however, learn to let go of the setbacks or to channel their frustrations into energy they need for moving ahead. Don’t brood, get busy.

A final review/recommendation:

Amsterdam isn’t a book for everyone. There isn’t a lot of action, but there is a lot of humanity. The characters are very real and the choices they make have very real consequences. After a blowup, Clive writes a postcard to Vernon chastising him for his decision to move forward with the scandal story. But his postcard doesn’t arrive on time–with disastrous effects for their friendship.

We never know how each decision we make affects other people, but it’s a good starting point to realize that our decisions do affect other people whether we intend them to or not. (Case in point: the decision to clean the bathroom before meeting up with your friends, which ends up making you late, and making them irritated.) I’ll stop here since I don’t want to spoil the novel for those who haven’t read it and think they might be interested in picking up a copy. If that person is you, here’s a bonus: it’s only 193 pages long. Score.

Photo Credits:
Book cover: https://unputdownables.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/8507280.jpg
J-Law On Fire: https://uproxx.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/american-hustle-jennifer-lawrence.jpg?w=650

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The Name of the Rose

Name of the Rose

Book type: Mystery/Fiction

Summary: Umberto Eco’s famous novel The Name of the Rose follows a young Benedictine novice Adso (from a German monastery) and his mentor, the English Franciscan William of Baskerville, as they investigate mysterious deaths at an Italian abbey while they are there for a meeting of papal and Franciscan legations to debate how poor Jesus really was (and how poor the Church should be). It’s a book full of odd characters, questions about how to approach our mortal lives, and of course, the nature of good and evil. And, as we always find, there are some good lessons to be learned…

Lessons:

  1. Don’t be normal. William of Baskerville is the main character, with Adso–his shadow and our narrator–along for the ride. At one point, in explaining the eccentricities of another Franciscan monk, Ubertino, William notes that “‘It is only petty men who seem normal'” (65). So be better than normal, be different, be eccentric, and stand out by standing up.
  2. Push yourself to learn new things. The primary feature of William of Baskerville (a former inquisitor for the Holy Inquisition) is his unfailing pursuit of knowledge, at almost any cost. While this sometimes does get him into trouble, he makes a good point to Adso when the young man asks him why he wants to know something even if it’s against the monastic rule’s orders: “‘Because learning does not consist only of knowing what we must or we can do, but also of knowing what we could do and perhaps should not do'” (97). Naturally, each of us has different boundaries. Learning something new for one person might be trying bath salts and ripping someone’s face off, for others–like myself–trying a bite of fish for the first time since childhood is enough of a foray into the unknown. Whatever your level is, push your boundaries of knowledge and experience, just consider the effect it may have on you and others.
  3. Even the pros slip up sometimes, so don’t expect perfection. We all mess up, even Umberto Eco. Technically, he didn’t make an error, but the phrasing of the following sentence is not his shining moment: “Symbol sometimes of the Devil, sometimes of the Risen Christ, no animal is more untrustworthy than the cock” (101). You got that right, Berto. The point is, everybody says or does something awkward or unbecoming at some point, so when it happens to you, be humble, acknowledge it, pick yourself back up, and laugh it off. I hope that’s what this guy did.
    Pitcher Fall Fail
    And while we’re on the topic of linguistic fails, do a quick Google search of “headline fails” and get your chuckle on. Seriously, do it. It’s wonderful.
  4. Be careful with your daytime naps. We’ve all been there, not enough sleep the night before, chilling on the couch in the afternoon watching TV or reading, you start to doze and think ‘NBD, I’ll just rest my eyes for a bit,’ except you wake up 3 hours later wondering whether it’s still the same day and if this is the time you’d normally be going to bed. That’s because, as Adso finds out himself after a long night’s investigating, “…[D]aytime sleep is like the sin of the flesh: the more you have the more you want, and yet you feel unhappy, sated and unsated at the same time” (156).
  5. Beware of misdirection. Of course in murder mysteries, misdirection is a common theme. The bad guy always tries to throw the good guy off the trail by misdirecting him to follow other leads. But misdirection happens in our everyday lives all the time. It happens at work when someone doesn’t pull their weight (they got stuck working on something else), with friends (something else came up), and with family (‘Well would’ve let you go, but your father said no’). But we really need to be worried about the bigger misdirections, especially those that direct our attention–and blame–to people and things with little power or agency. Beware of anyone with power blaming someone without it. In the book, Adso asks one of the monks at the abbey why Jews had been attacked by hordes of shepherds, and this was the explanation he received.

    He explained to me that all his life preachers had told him the Jews were the enemies of Christianity and accumulated possessions that had been denied the Christian poor. I asked him, however, whether it was not also true that lords and bishops accumulated possessions through tithes, so that the Shepherds were not fighting their true enemies. He replied that when your true enemies are too strong, you have to choose weaker enemies. […] The lords did not want the Shepherds to jeopardize their possessions, and it was a great good fortune for them that the Shepherds’ leaders spread the notion that the greatest wealth belonged to the Jews (192).

  6. Sometimes you just need a wash. I learned this sound advice from my mother, but Adso speaks of it as well in The Name of the Rose. If you’re feeling down, if you’re anxious, exasperated, confused, or exhausted, cleaning up can do a world of good, “…[B]ecause nothing can restore body and mind better than a bath” (256).
    Zach Galifinakis Bathtub
  7. Google your medical symptoms with a grain of salt. This is another situation I’m sure we’ve all been in: something feels wrong and we take to our keyboards to find out just WTF is wrong with us. It turns out this problem may have affected 14th-century monks too, albeit not with keyboards. At one point, after fornicating with a peasant girl (yes, this book has it’s juicy moments–and you thought Zach Galifinakis in a bathtub was enough for one day), Adso takes to the library collection and starts reading about ailments and then wants the reader to know that he “learned later that, reading books of medicine, you are always convinced you feel the pains of which they speak” (322). While it’s very possible that he had crabs, most of us only make ourselves worse by our WebMD findings. One time I was feeling terrible over the course of a couple weeks. At first I was convinced that it was cancer or diabetes (I drank way too much Mountain Dew back then), then I checked my symptoms against the those of panic attacks and nearly caused myself to have an actual panic attack. It turned out my thyroid wasn’t getting the right messages and I just needed some simple medicine to set me straight. If you know you have a tendency toward being a cyberchondriac, as they are called, next time you feel ill, exit out of your browser and call a doctor if it’s that bad. Otherwise, take a chill pill and wait to see if your symptoms subside in a day or two.

A final review/recommendation:

There is a reason why Eco’s novel has been translated into several languages and read by millions: it’s a great book. That doesn’t mean you’ll like it though (however, it does have over a 4.0 rating on Goodreads.com, with over 150,000 reviews). It’s a long mystery at 500 pages, and it contains extensive passages of theological arguments about whether or not Jesus laughed and how poor he really thought everyone should be. And there’s tons of Latin. Oodles of it. But if you can bear with the religious discourse and are able to let go of the fact that you probably have no idea what the Latin phrases mean, you may really like the book, as I did.

In reading about the book after I finished it today, I discovered some references to it as a specifically postmodern novel, in which not every question has one clear and definite answer. Put in this perspective, the book became more interesting to me than any old murder mystery might be. As the astute William of Baskerville explains to Adso about the books they’ve found in the hidden library, “‘Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn’t ask ourselves what it says but what it means…'” (316). But again, just because a book is a “good book” that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. My best advice is to start reading it and if after the first day’s action–since the book’s chapters are organized by day–you aren’t feeling it, put it down and watch the Sean Connery move version from 1986 on Amazon instead.

Photo credits:
Book cover: http://www.saltmanz.com/pictures/albums/Cover%20Scans/Book%20Covers/Name%20of%20the%20Rose.jpg
Pitcher Fail: http://www.totalprosports.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/pitcher-falling-off-the-mound-baseball-fail-gifs.gif
Rubber Ducky You’re the One: http://cdnimg.visualizeus.com/thumbs/a6/66/bath,bathtub,ducks,funny,man,playing-a6664ffc97b6b6ffa1362428afbe6ab7_h.jpg

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The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch Cover

Book type: Fiction

Summary: In Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Goldfinch, a young boy named Theodore Decker loses his mother in a terrorist attack on a New York museum that the two of them were visiting. Moments after the explosion, he returns to consciousness next to an elderly man he had seen in the gallery with a young girl about Theo’s age. Amidst rubble and chaos, the old man gives him a ring off his finger and instructs him to save the rare and beautiful painting called The Goldfinch. Theo makes off with it and his life is forever changed–protecting the painting, then keeping it secret, and trying to live in the wake of the destruction of his family and also his innocence.

Lessons:

  1. “One foot after the other. There’s no other way to get through…” (93). We have all heard this cliché at some point in our lives, but just because something is a cliché, doesn’t mean it’s not true. My grandmother told a similar story–that after my grandfather’s death (her husband of forty years), she would take things day by day, and sometimes hour by hour, and if necessary, minute by minute. And, being a woman of faith, she said that when her tears made it hard to read her Bible, she bought a copy in large print, so she could read through the tears. The point is that you do what you have to do to get through difficult times. Which leads me to my next point.
  2. Sometimes it’s better not to look at the bigger picture. While looking at the bigger picture is often a good reminder, to keep us from fixating on short-term failures or petty thoughts, sometimes the bigger picture can be intimidating. At those times it can be more helpful to deal with what’s immediately at-hand: “To understand the world at all, sometimes you could only focus on a tiny bit of it, look very hard at what was close to hand and make it stand in for the whole…” (596).
  3. In relationships, each person should have their own life. Everyone has at least one friend who, when in a relationship, never does anything without their significant other, or who just seems to fall off the grid and you never see them anymore. Here’s a tip: don’t be that person. Your friends and your family don’t like that person. They’re happy that you’ve found your soulmate (whether eternal or temporary), but they’re also sad, because they miss you. “Stay away from the ones you love too much. Those are the ones who will kill you. What you want to live and be happy in the world is a woman who has her own life and lets you have yours” (588). Now that’s a bit melodramatic, the killing you part and all, but still, make sure you retain your own interests and activities while in your relationships. You don’t want to lose everyone but your One True Love.
    Best Friend Meme (Goldfinch Blog)
  4. “Worry! What a waste of time” (683). There are people who can’t control their worry, people with anxiety, for whom a simple reminder to chill the f*%& out doesn’t help at all, and likely hurts. But anxiety is different from worry, from the everyday things many of us get wrapped up in. Many of us do need periodic reminders to take a deep breath and stop trying to control everything.

    All the holy books were right. Clearly ‘worry’ was the mark of a primitive and spiritually unevolved person. What was that line from Yeats, about the bemused Chinese sages? All things fall and are built again. Ancient glittering eyes. This was wisdom. People had been raging and weeping and destroying things for centuries and wailing about their puny individual lives, when–what was the point? All this useless sorrow? Consider the lilies of the field. Why did anyone ever worry about anything? Weren’t we, as sentient beings, put upon the earth to be happy, in the brief time allotted to us? (683-684)

    Again, some people cannot simply will their worry away, but many of us can practice learning to let those things go which fall outside of our control. For more on control and letting go, check out my previous entry on the wisdom of Epictetus.

A final review/recommendation:

I thought about including one more lesson in this entry, but I thought it best to explain it here: you don’t have to like things just because other people do, or vice versa. When I finished The Goldfinch–all 772 pages of it–I thought eh, this was an ok book. Only afterward, in doing a Google search to see other people’s opinions of the book, did I discover that I had just read a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. I was floored. The book was fine, interesting enough (though it didn’t need to be almost 800 pages), but in no way did it strike me as the one book that deserved the prestige of a Pulitzer Prize for 2014. Surely there must have been more interesting or groundbreaking or contemplative novels released in 2014, I thought. After reading several reviews, I discovered that while there definitely are critics out there who thought of Tartt’s book in much the same way I did, there are probably twice as many people who think her book was utterly fantastic. And that’s ok. We don’t all have to agree that Hemingway is the greatest prose writer or that The Catcher in the Rye is, at best, a whiny teenage melodrama. (I happened to love it when I was sixteen.) In the end, it’s all about what we take away from these things we consume–literature, art, investigative journalism, tweets, TV, magazines, whatever. Everything can offer us a lesson or something useful; we just need to be intentional about how we consume in order to reap the benefits of what a given thing has to offer us. “‘Idolatry! Caring too much for objects can destroy you. Only–if you care for a thing enough, it takes on a life of its own, doesn’t it? And isn’t the whole point of things–beautiful things–that they connect you to some larger beauty?'” (748)

As for a recommendation, the selfish part of me wants all of you to read this book and report back on what you thought of it. Maybe my moderate dislike for the book (after finding out its Pulitzer Prize status) was a reflection of my emotions at the time or the fact that I was tired of reading a seemingly never-ending book. The unselfish part of me has no idea to whom I should recommend this book; fiction lovers? Art lovers? Emotional twenty-somethings dissatisfied with the world they find themselves in? I have no idea. But if you read it, let me know your thoughts in a comment here.

Photo Credits:
Book cover: http://www.concordmonitor.com/csp/mediapool/sites/dt.common.streams.StreamServer.cls?STREAMOID=RnvCFhz7xdkl9H3I9Xetcc$daE2N3K4ZzOUsqbU5sYtNcT9wauq2e1817YPHDMTwWCsjLu883Ygn4B49Lvm9bPe2QeMKQdVeZmXF$9l$4uCZ8QDXhaHEp3rvzXRJFdy0KqPHLoMevcTLo3h8xh70Y6N_U_CryOsw6FTOdKL_jpQ-&CONTENTTYPE=image/jpeg
James Lost His BFF: http://askusfortcollins.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/when-you-realize-your-best-friend-isnt-your-best-friend-anymore-thumb.jpg

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The Kitchen House

Book type: Fiction

Summary: Kathleen Grissom’s The Kitchen House tells the story of an Irish girl who is taken as an indentured servant by a Virginia plantation owner after her parents die onboard his ship. She is placed in the kitchen house and grows up under the guidance, and with the love of her adopted family, the Captain’s slaves (including his illegitimate daughter Belle, who raises the Irish girl, Lavinia). The novel centers on the tension between freedom and captivity, and seeks to illustrate the complex nature of race and social status during the 19th century. In the story, Lavinia must struggle to find her place in society and in her new home, when her whole life has been spent as a servant in the kitchen house with the black family that adopted her.

Lessons:

  1. Everyone has a story. This principle is prominent throughout the novel and hit home for me this weekend when I went to a conference held by GO Effect near my house. At the conference we were split into small groups to learn about other people’s stories and a primary challenge each person is facing right now in their lives. We were given the directive to withhold judgment and also to refrain from comparing people’s challenges. What soon became evident in these groups is that each person has a struggle, and whether it’s as heartbreaking as dealing with the loss of a loved one, or as seemingly trivial as choosing a college major, they are struggles nonetheless. It’s very easy to compare struggles and to diminish the severity of someone else’s struggle by saying “Well, you have money, so your struggle isn’t as significant,” or “Well, you are young, so your struggles can’t be as significant.” But when we do this sort of labeling to an individual who is telling us his or her story, we don’t help ourselves and we don’t help the other person. If we can remember to take a step back and consider that everyone has a story (and that even if they’ve just told us their current struggle, we don’t know their entire story), we will be better able to meet them at their level and love them where they are. (Refer back to my entry on The Art of Loving if you need a pick-me-up on loving people.)
  2. “Family isn’t about whose blood you have. It’s about who you care about.” Now, this quote isn’t from The Kitchen House, it’s actually from South Park; but it easily could have been in this book. When the Irish orphan Lavinia is brought down to the kitchen house and meets the Pyke family’s slaves, they welcome her into their family. She asks the main patriarch, Papa George, if she can be his daughter too, even though she’s white, and he gives her a fitting analogy. He asks if she thinks mother hens care that some of their chicks are white, some are brown, and some are black. With the obvious answer being no, he tells her she’s a part of their family (26). This lesson ties into the first one from this entry as well as those from The Art of Loving. We should care about everyone, and if we do that, everyone becomes our family. Work on treating everyone like they’re you’re family. Besides, you never know, they might actually be your family (based on figures I’ve seen about how many of us are related to Shakespeare, Genghis Khan, etc.).
  3. If someone asks you about yourself (or your struggles), remember to ask them something too. Lavinia comments at one point that she asks a guest at her birthday party a question and after he babbles on endlessly, she remembers how she was told that “no man can resist talking about himself” (194). This is true of a great many people–and you and I may be among their number–so try to get in the habit of remembering that if someone asks you a question about yourself, return the interest and ask him or her a question too. It doesn’t have to be the same question the person asked you. (Otherwise it’ll become obvious that you’re just regurgitating the questions back.) And pay attention to the person once you’ve posed your question, don’t feign interest and then check your phone instead of listening to the person’s response. That’s bad mojo.

    Mojo baby…no. Just no.

     

A final review/recommendation:

I found the racial complexities within this book to be very interesting, particularly related to family. It would be too convoluted and difficult here to describe the characters in the book and how the struggles related to their race affect them and those around them. Their stories are anything but simple, and shed light on the challenges that people face regardless of their social status, skin color, or age. I enjoyed the book, but can understand why some goodreads reviews complained that it was melodramatic and didn’t give all the characters an equal voice. More than anything, I’d be interested in what you think of the book, should you choose to read it. If you have read it or end up reading it, please share your thoughts in the comments for this post!

Photo credits:
Book cover: http://innersanctum.simonandschuster.biz/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/The-Kitchen-House.jpg
Mojo workin’: https://ccriderwrites.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/6c659-mojo-sdk.jpg

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The Crocodile on the Sandbank

Book type: Mystery

Summary: The first of the Amelia Peabody mystery series by Elizabeth Peters, The Crocodile on the Sandbank follows the heroine Amelia and her traveling companion Evelyn up the Nile on an adventure to see grand archaeological sites. They meet other English people along the way and, just like kids do on study abroad, they hang out pretty much exclusively with other people just like them. But while they work together to preserve history at their excavation site in Amarna, Egypt, other forces are working just as hard to expel them from it. Each member of their party is plagued by a mummy that stalks them at night and thus they are compelled to discover the motivations of the mummy or of whomever it is that controls him, before they end up in tombs of their own.

Lessons:

  1. “Every object, every small scrap of the past can teach us something” (44). Don’t take this to mean that you therefore should save every item from your childhood or from your grandparents’ house (tempted though I am to take a note from my grandma and establish my own creepy doll collection…)

    These dolls weren’t my grandma’s, but believe me, hers were just as creepy. And she didn’t have enough to fill a couch; she had an entire roomful of them. It was like a horror movie in there.

    Right, so don’t keep absolutely everything. But don’t be too quick to throw things away either. Take a minute to think about whether the thing you’re dumping into the garbage can might be something that could really help future generations in your family to learn about what their ancestor was like or what interested him or her. In my family’s case, we learned my dad comes from a long line of men who worked with machines and tools, back far enough that some of my ancestors were saddle and harness makers. So to have some of my ancestors tools means a lot. Keep the things that matter. Unless they’re dolls. Sell or donate those, because people might assume the worst about you if you keep them. Particularly if you’re a guy. People will assume you’re a serial killer.

  2. “Nothing can be more infuriating than being forgiven over and over again” (53). In the scene that this quote is taken from, the narrator and main character Amelia is describing the fact that her friend Evelyn has some romantic indiscretions in her past and how a gentleman from their group “might marry her and then spend the rest of his life nobly forgiving her” (52-53). The lesson here? Only associate with people who will forgive you once for an error you’ve made and not hold it over your head for all eternity. If someone can’t forgive you once for a one-time indiscretion, don’t feel bad when he or she brings it up again to remind you how grateful you should be. And always remember what Oscar Wilde told you: “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.”
  3. You never know when a given moment may determine your destiny, so always be prepared. At the very beginning of Peter’s novel, Amelia is traveling in Rome when she comes upon a group of people crowded around a young woman who they assume is dead. Amelia, convinced the woman is not dead, comes to her aid, and this young woman ends up becoming her best friend and turning her life around. Now, you don’t have to be prepared to save someone’s life at a moment’s notice, but you can try your best to be aware of how you treat the people you meet and the people you live, work, and spend time with. By being conscientious about our interactions with others, we can strengthen our relationships and shape our lives so that we’ll be better able to deal with whatever future fate may be dealt to us, from money problems to mummy problems.

Or, for mummy problems, you can rely on this guy. He’s got some experience in that field.

A final review/recommendation:

I thought that The Crocodile on the Sandbank was going to be more of the standard “who dunnit” murder-type mystery, but instead it was a book about a group of people trying to escape the supernatural or figure out what was behind it. In that way it was slightly reminiscent of a Scooby Doo mystery. If you like Scooby Doo (and I always have), you’ll probably like this book. If you prefer mysteries where people really die, you might try The Alienist (Caleb Carr), The Devil in the White City (actual murders in this one by Erik Larson), or one of my favorite books across all categories, The Monster of Florence (Douglas Preston & Mario Spezi). If I could get everyone I know to read one book, it would probably be The Monster of Florence, about a serial killer in the Tuscan hills in Italy. That probably makes me pretty macabre. What book would you have everyone read? Let me know by leaving a comment below!

What a quick search for "who dunnit" brings up. I think even my dog knows that the people who die on ABC primetime shows aren't actually dead. He plays dead better than most of them do, anyway.

What a quick search for “who dunnit” brings up. I think even my dog knows that the people who die on ABC primetime shows aren’t actually dead. He plays dead better than most of them do, anyway.

Photo credits:
Book cover: http://pinalbookclub.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/crocodilesandbank.jpg
Welcome to the doll show: https://ccriderwrites.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/d0220-2-izannahwalkerchristmaspartyfromantiquedollcollectorresized.jpg
Mummy Killer: http://www.nationalenquirer.com/sites/nationalenquirer.com/files/imagecache/node_page_image/article_images/fraiser_stry.jpg
Dummy Killer: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20130705195639AADfSGQ

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Transatlantic

Book type: (Historical) Fiction

Summary: TransAtlantic is a novel of individual stories woven together over centuries and across continents, oceans, and cultures. It’s a book about flight–whether by plane or boat–of people like Frederick Douglass trying to establish freedom, of people like a New York Senator trying to create peace in a war-torn capital city, and of people like journalist Emily Ehrlich and her daughter Lottie, who pursue their passions and their heritage. All these people moving back and forth between Ireland and North America. People pushing boundaries and making history. People whose perseverance in the face of tragedy nurtures and supports future generations.

Lessons:

  1. “Cynicism is easy. An optimist is a braver cynic” (150). All of the characters in this book have something to be cynical about, and most of them are, at least to some extent, cynical. But beyond their cynicism is a tenacity for life that keeps them going, even after the deaths of their children, husbands, and friends. Their optimism may not be your standard “glass-half-full” type, but it’s a form of optimism, or of faith, nonetheless. Faced with death, they build new lives. No matter the situation, they figure out some way to get through it. So be like them: a cynic, but be a brave one. Don’t let cyncism hinder your progress.
  2. “Ashes don’t become wood” (120). There are very few things that you can change back to how they originally were. This blog entry, for example, was completely lost when I was almost at the end of writing it (because for some unknown reason, the little gnomes that I imagine inhabit my computer and make everything work, decided not to auto-save anything I did after putting the book cover into the entry).  I can’t make this entry what it was before the entire thing disappeared, but–in following the lesson I just gave you–I’ve decided to be optimistic and hope that this new version proves to be even better than the last one was. Whether it’s an object, a relationship, or an aspiration that has changed or fallen apart over time, learn to live with the ashes instead of trying to force them futilely to be wood again. Move on, try again, or in my case, scream, cry, eat a cinnamon crunch bagel, and then start over.
  3. Don’t let other people take your passions from you or lessen your sense of self-worth. Emily Ehrlich, a female journalist around the turn of the last century, becomes involved with the editor of the newspaper she writes for, and in a bitter display of douchebaggery, he claims to the other heads of the newspaper that he’s written every single article ever published with her name on it. The result is that she can never work for that newspaper or any other one in the city again. But instead of giving up on her passion because one man ruined her opportunities in one city, she picks herself up and takes her daughter and her passion to a new place (ironically, Newfoundland) and continues to hone her writing skills. At a time when everything about her was an affront to established social norms (an unwed mother, non-church goer, and journalist), she took the jeers and slights of other people in stride, like Frederick Douglass does elsewhere in the novel when he states: “I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than be false, and incur my own abhorrence” (54).
  4. “A man knows where he is from when he knows where he would like to be buried” (106). This was something I’d never thought of before, which is surprising if you consider that at the age of ten I had a shoebox containing details for how I wanted my funeral service in the event I died. (There was also a will, and yes, at the time stuffed animals were the most difficult thing to divide up amongst my theoretical heirs.) Anyway, this isn’t so much a lesson as an interesting thing to think about. So for those of you who are macabre like I am, next time you’re introduced to someone new, try using this question as an icebreaker and see where it gets you. If you’re like me, it will probably make you a friend for life.

A final review/recommendation:

I was having a hard time trying to figure out what I would rate this book on goodreads.com once I finished it, because I had mixed feelings. I loved the idea of the book and the lives and stories it contained, but I often found I wasn’t a big fan of the writing style. McCann’s sentences are almost exclusively short, terse statements, which, being a lover of Hemingway (no, not in that way, although he was pretty handsome when he went off to WWI), one would think would be right up my alley. But I found that the voice was too similar for all the characters, unlike Nine Lives, which I read a couple weeks ago. I would’ve liked more variety in the description of how the characters think and how they view the world around them. And my biggest complaint, if you were to call it that, was that often the language was too abstract for my taste. For example, “The car drives on. Beyond Belfast now, into the countryside. The light on the slant of the fields. Fenced here, unbounded there. There is always room for at least two truths” (152). Maybe it’s because I’m not as savvy as I generally think I am, or maybe it’s because I read this book for fun and not for an English lit class, but that last sentence sounds wonky to me. Like something someone from my Intro to Creative Writing class in college would’ve written. I can’t help but picture Keanu Reeves delivering that line if this book were a movie. That being said, the story is really great, so I recommend reading the book just for that. The chapters are a little long, but the fact that each one skips around at least a half-century or so, means that the novel never gets boring. So if you’re interested in reading a book that just came out, give this one a go.

Photo credit: http://media.oregonlive.com/books_impact/photo/ax215-30ea-9jpg-594cc3f574a7382e.jpg

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