Dory L.'s blog

Hippie Child: How a Young Boy Helped Parent his New-Age Mom

ISBN: 
9781401324605

Think your childhood was non-mainstream? A little kooky? Perhaps on the bizarre side? Well check out the hand Josh Safran was dealt being born in the early 70s in a commune in San Francisco during the height of Flower Power and the counter-culture.

Safran makes his childhood—first in city communes; later in remote cabins in the mountain wilderness actually sound happy.  Credit his mother, Claudia, for that.  Highly intelligent, emotionally warm, full of passion for political change and hope for a just world, Claudia imparted to Josh many values.  Yet, she also barely kept food on his plate and never gave him a beautiful home. In fact for one three month period, they lived in a visqueen shelter on tree stumps in a rain forest. Yet these are failings of poverty not intent. Much worse were allowing her lovers to abuse him and to threaten them both by driving under the influence of alcohol on icy mountain roads, often in the dark.

The book is sad, poignant, funny, and a surprising page turner from beginning to end. Check out this hook of an opening sentence “By the time I was ten, I had hitchhiked thousands of miles and befriended hundreds of remarkably strange people.”  Here’s a short list of them: Crazy John, Uncle Tony (no blood relation), conniving Bob, deal-making Read more »

Bobcat and Other Stories

ISBN: 
9781616201739

If you like short stories don’t skip this new collection, Bobcat. Rebecca Lee’s stories about architects, matchmakers, academics, depressed children, a writer’s spouse, and student plagiarists are absorbing and continually offer fresh surprises. Lee writes fluid yet beautiful prose that cuts immediately to the chase.

In the story “Min,” the title character’s father, Albert, works in Hong Kong to resettle Vietnamese refugees for the UN. One summer Min invites his college friend to visit Asia with him for the summer.  Although they are close friends, Min and Sarah are not in love. 

While there, Sarah discovers that the promised job that Albert has chosen for her is to find Min a wife. Sarah’s only training is to read the notes Albert’s mother left when she selected her own son’s bride. Here are a couple examples: “Possibility—Midnight black hair, walk is like a leopard, carnal desires strong,” and “Monkey woman, scurries through the day, loves confusion.” Read more »

River Inside the River

ISBN: 
9780393239744

What a beautiful collection Gregory Orr’s tenth book of poetry is--moving, lyrical, concise, thought-provoking and full of a rich humanity. Orr has had a difficult life. As he describes in one poem, he accidentally shot his brother in a hunting accident as a child and his mother died a few months later. He doesn’t say from heartache but that is implied.

The book is divided into three sections. The first “Eden and After” offers an overabundance of infinitive titles including: “To Speak,” “To See,”  “To Write,” “To Embrace,” “To Stray,” and a couple I can’t mention here. The poems are much deeper and broader than the titles might imply.  And yes, they are about Adam and Eve’s time in the Garden of Eden and their later fall as these lines from “To Build” reveal: “No longer could they rest / Each night inside / God’s breath / As in a tent that kept / Them from the cold.”

The second section is more literary. It’s called “The City of Poetry.” Individual poets are mentioned including: Francois Villon, Coleridge, /Rimbaud, Sappho, etc. but it’s more a praise song to poetry itself: “There’s only one river / That flows / Through the city / But different poems / Call it different names.” Read more »

Many Eras, Many Lives

ISBN: 
9780062213785

Have you ever wondered how different you would have been if you’d lived during Napoleonic times, the First World War, or the Second? This novel explores how much the era a person lives in affects his or her personality, and choices in life.

In the autumn of 1985, Greta Wells loses her twin brother to AIDS. She’s also been injured in a serious car accident that has also harmed her dear Aunt Ruth.  Because Greta sloughs through a deep depression that will not lift, her psychiatrist recommends an old treatment that is becoming new again. Greta calls it electric shock therapy. Dr. Cerletti corrects her—“It’s called electric convulsive therapy.”

During my college years, I worked as a psychiatric aide at two mental hospitals, and I watched this procedure several times.  It struck me as something medieval and horrifying, but luckily in The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, ECT is not described in great physical detail. Read more »

Next Booksplus Discussion: This Sunday--September 8th--at 2 p.m.

ISBN: 
9780385536820

Our next book to be discussed is a thrilling read about early 70’s Britain. I always enjoy novels set in the author’s youth. In an interview, McEwan describes this period of rock and roll and changing mores as the time of his life, ”when it was very bliss to be alive.” Rent was cheap even in London. For only three pounds a month, McEwan scored a large apartment, and could live off writing a few reviews and articles each month. He spent the rest of his time, reading, writing, and socializing.

This novel combines a spy novel, a love story, and a journey into the literary world of early 70s England. McEwan, who has won many prizes, could have titled it a spy in the house of literature. Read more »

A North Korean Emigré to Brazil

ISBN: 
9781476714813

Want to read a novel but feeling pressed for time with all the craziness of back-to-school and fall a-coming? If so, try this new one, the highly lyrical Snow Hunters by Korean-American Paul Yoon. It tells the story of a North Korean prisoner of war who refuses to return home after the Korean War. Instead the administrators of his prison camp finds him a placement in Brazil. Yohan boards a cargo ship where the sailors befriend him and they set sail for South America. 

Yohan arrives at a small unnamed town in the rain as a young girl on a bicycle rides past. She gives him her umbrella. Yohan shelters himself under it as he goes in search of the tailor Kiyoshi who has agreed to give him an apprenticeship.

The former Japanese tailor and Yohan develop a relationship that is at first wordless. Neither speaks the same language. But Kiyoshi is both very kind and very observant. When Yohan wakes in the middle of the night with Read more »

An Enlarged Heart

ISBN: 
9781400042715

Summer--a great time for reading novels--is also a good time to catch up on more episodic reading. This memoir is perfect for a short period listening to the cicada orchestra from the porch swing, or a quick read before bed.

In twelve varied segments, poet and former New Yorker/Talk of the Town writer Zarin shares important milestones in her life as well as a passion for several material objects that she has become attached to over the years.

The strongest and most emotionally-charged piece is the title one in which Zarin describes a typical day on the Cape with her and her husband’s assorted brood of kids, when the youngest gets ill. “It began with a cough. Her brother had a cough. And, after all, what was a cough?”  By this time, Zarin had treated countless upset tummies and sore throats. But two emergency visits later, she found herself kneeling next to her daughter while the ambulance raced to Children’s Hospital in Boston.

The diagnosis: the rare Kawasaki Disease, which is the leading cause of heart damage in children. This segment shows how quickly our ordinary lives can turn frightening and possibly tragic. Read more »

The Bees

ISBN: 
9780865478855

Before we slide into autumn, and the lightning bugs, daddy long legs, and bees disappear, take time to enjoy Carol Ann Duffy’s new collection of poems, The Bees. No, it has nothing to do with the dark subject of colony collapse. Instead many of these poems center on this communal insect and its work in the world. Other poems are about love and family and the desolation of winter, yet even in these, bees hover over the edges of the poems, providing a small celestial moment of grace and fortitude (especially in those set during cold months.)

Duffy writes lyrical poetry that resonates with imaginative and sometimes unexpected images. Examine how the title poem begins: “Here are my bees / brazen, blurs on paper, / besoted: buzzwords, dancing / their flawless, airy maps.”

In this poem she compares bees to words, how they dive deeply into everything and bring back scents that pervade her “shadowed, busy heart, / and honey is art. “ Read more »

Wedding Complications

ISBN: 
9780307599469

In Seating Arrangments, Winn Van Meter and his family descend upon the family’s summer retreat house on the New England island of Waskeke. His pregnant daughter Daphne is about to tie the knot. Biddy, her mother, is deeply involved in final wedding preparations, and Winn finds himself strongly drawn to one of the bridesmaids, Agatha. Meanwhile, Daphne’s sister, Livia, who just terminated her own pregnancy, is trying hard to get over a big breakup with Teddy Finn. And to her father’s horror, Livia plans to become a marine biologist rather than a lawyer. 

This lovely, slyly humorous novel is brimming with very believable and flawed characters; it captures the insanity, tension, and chaos of a modern wedding.

Winn, an upper-crust, stoic accountant likes things just so.  Imagine his consternation when he arrives a day late for the weekend party to find his spiritual retreat taken over by women: his wife and two daughters, three other bridesmaids, and the alcoholic Aunt Celeste, who sees right through Winn’s holier than thou exterior to his traitorous heart. During one pre-wedding party with the new in-laws, she follows him up to the widow’s walk and warns him, not to ruin Biddy’s weekend. Read more »

Those Rollicking 1920s

ISBN: 
9780399161469

Interested in all the hoopla surrounding The Great Gatsby? If this new flick has spurned your interest in 1920s New York, The Other Typist is the book for you. Talk about unreliable narrators. Rose Baker, a former orphan & Catholic schoolgirl, has joined the new wave of women working where men only used to work—big city police stations.

And even though she is still doing women’s work—stenography & typing--she’s listening to risqué and bad language-spiced stories from speakeasy gangsters and murderers including one serial killer who offs several wives in a row for their money. They each end up drowned in the bathtub, yet he keeps convincing juries that he is innocent.

Strong and stoic as Rose is, she soon becomes mesmerized by the new (somewhat incompetent) typist, Odalie, who is beautiful, rich, and ever so modern. She bobs her hair, wears the new slinky dresses with long beads, and is not afraid to make her own way in the world, including visiting the aforementioned speakeasies. But where does Odalie get her money? And is the daddy who pays her rent really her daddy? Read more »

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