Saturday, January 30, 2021

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult TimesWintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times is not my usual fare according to its categorization as new age/self-improvement but the writing was skillful and lovely enough to disregard preconceptions. And as a summer person I balked at snow and ice, the frigid settings of Iceland and the Arctic, but I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the Sami and their reindeer, the adaptable hard-working Finns and the Polar Bear Clubbers. The story of her husband's burst appendix resonated with personal experience (my husband's appendix burst on a camping trip) and her exploration of her own illness, pulling her unhappy child our of school and the captivating incident of losing and regaining her voice held my attention. Wolves, bees as one organism, friendly robins and kids books carried me along with the narrator. The best quote: "They say that we should dance like no one is watching. I think that applies to reading, too" which she says of her familiar loose, exploratory reading during nights of insomnia, "a chapter here, a segment there." And best of all, February 1st marks the Gaelic festival of Imbolc or St. Brigid's Day when we dust away our cobwebs to welcome spring hovering just over there. My snowbells are up, the tulips leaves visible.

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Friday, January 22, 2021

The Bloater

The BloaterThe Bloater by Rosemary Tonks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a lark! So glad to have snagged a copy of this book from Interlibrary Loan and listened to the Backlist Podcast. Min is a classic female character in this delightful confection of the Sixties as she copes with her opera singer admirer called The Bloater ("this huge, tame, exotic man" "I personally can smell him from the kitchen...I do see that he is large and washing takes time") lusts after a coworker named Billy, gossips with friends and an inciteful neighbor ("he has property, knows everything, and occasionally tells me near-truths about myself.") She pretty much ignores her husband, George. She suffers from gout and is absorbed by her clothing, her home d├ęcor and her cleaner, occasionally her job in electronic music, but mostly is concerned with her love life. When her husband complains, "I am bewildered, and my ego falls down off her plinth." Fun to read. A closing salvo from Min: "I'm able to put up with the present only by attaching it to the future."

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Sunday, January 10, 2021

Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar

Homeland ElegiesHomeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. My response to this book was mixed--the writing is smart and skilled and the personal relationships between father and son and male friendships held my interest, but the lengthy discourses on politics and why his Black friend votes Republican. religion, economics, market timing, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Robert Bork, the 45th president, Islamaphobia post September 11th, all dragged in verbosity. One of his more prescient observations: "Trump had just felt the national mood, and his particular genius was a need for attention so craven, so unrelenting, he was willing to don any and every shade of our moment's ugliness, consequences be damned." I've seen and appreciated Akhtar's short, one-act punchy action-filled plays including the Pulitzer-winner, Disgraced. I wanted more of that in the novel, but the author wanted to expound.

Many questions answered in this review:

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Friday, January 1, 2021

What Are You Going Through?

What Are You Going ThroughWhat Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say, "What are you going through?”

― Simone Weil

The first half of the book deals mostly with the narrator's attendance at a lecture on the inevitable end of the world and then an amalgam of anecdotes as she meets people who tell her of their suffering. This section moved slowly. The latter half of the book is her attendance on a friend with terminal cancer who is intent on euthanasia and I responded more to this section, in fact laughed out loud at some of its incongruities like the flood, or:
"Flaubert: To think is to suffer.
Aristotle: To perceive is to suffer.
Hitchcock: Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.
Sylvester the Cat: Sufferin' succotash."
The philosophical topics are meaty and many on the decimation of earth, illness, death, friendship and animals' role in our lives. Some consider it a companion piece to The Friend as it deals with similar topics of friendship and aging.
There's not much plot nor even characterization, but I enjoyed the literary references, the quotidian activities caring for each other, the author's telling how to sit with a terminal friend as the earth too is dying.

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