“Life and Times of Estelle…”

Alexie, Sherman. “The Life and Times of Estelle Walks Above.” Ten Little Indians. New York: Open Road, 2003.

Reason read: June is Short Story Month

A man looks back at his childhood to paint a picture of his mother, Estelle. As a member of the Spokane Indian tribe and a force to be reckoned with, Estelle was by turns someone to admire and someone to avoid. Sounds like practically every mother I know. She spent most of her lift as a spiritual guru to white women as she adores their culture over her own.

Quote to quote, “I wasn’t a vegetarian by choice, I was a vegetarian by economic circumstance” (p 42).

Author fact: Alexie has won a National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

Book trivia: Ten Little Indians actually only has nine stories.

Nancy said: Pearl included Alexie in her list of short stories she most enjoyed.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Good Things Come in Small Packages” (p 102).


November Numbness

“Live a life steeped in experiences.” That’s what my tea bag therapist said this morning. I’m not sure what to make of that advice, considering I have been passing each day as if waiting for something, but not exactly sure what.

I keep going back to the hospital for x-rays and answering mind-throttling questions like, “when did you break your back? How long have you been having extremity nerve pain?” Nearly passing out from lack of comprehension, I didn’t know what to say. I still don’t, but at that moment I sat there in silence with a stuck-in-dumb expression on my face. Yes, my back hurts from time to time, but broken? Yes, I have been complaining about my hands and feet falling asleep, but pain? I was there to get my protruding rib cage scrutinized. Now they tell me it’s a nodule on my lung and abnormally high white blood cell counts. “Probably a viral infection,” the nurse said of my white blood cell count. This was before the nodule on my left lung (25% malignant cancer) was a reality via CT scan. Are the two related? Am I falling to pieces? Sure feels that way. In the meantime, I have buried myself in books:

Fiction (Lots of books for kids and young adults):

  • David and the Phoenix by Edward Ormondroyd (AB): a book for children, added in honor of Fantasy Month.
  • The Pinballs By Betsy Byars: another kids book added in honor of Adoption month.
  • Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko.
  • Martin Dressler: the Tale of an American Dreamer by Steven Millhauser.
  • The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (EB).
  • Foolscap, or, the Stages of Love by Michael Malone.
  • Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller.

Nonfiction:

  • She’s Not There: a Life in Two Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan.
  • The Caliph’s House by Tahir Shah.
  • Expecting Adam: the Story of Birth, Rebirth, and Magic by Martha Beck (AB)

Series continuation:

  • Scales of Gold by Dorothy Dunnett.

Expecting Adam

Beck, Martha. Expecting Adam: a True Story of Birth, Rebirth and Everyday Magic. Ready by Joyce Bean. Tantor Media Inc., 2012.

Reason read: my mom’s birthday falls in the month of November. Read in her honor.

I love it when overly intellectual people have to rely on unscientific phenomenons like faith and hope and magic. I think being able to let go of factual reasoning and open our minds to blind trust stretches our narrow minded boundaries a little wider. Beck speaks to having a premonition before her son, Adam, was born. There had been almost mystic signs he was not going to be an ordinary child. Throughout Beck’s pregnancy inexplicable events pushed her to believe in decidedly unscientific miracles. The problem is both Beck and her husband, John, were obsessed with facts. Overly driven to be successful (two Harvard degrees each), they couldn’t wrap their brains around giving birth to a Down syndrome baby. Expecting Adam is the story of letting go to perfection; the releasing of ambitions; the saying goodbye to lofty goals…and saying hello to an angel.

As an aside, Beck made some references that I was unfamiliar with, enough so that I needed to look them up and keep track:

  • Deng Xiaping
  • Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm

 

Lines I liked, “It works for me to think that I will be lumped together with the right-to-lifers, not to mention every New Age crystal kisser who ever claimed to see an angel in the clouds over Sedona” (p 8), “If we saw people as they really are, the beauty would overwhelm us” (p 308), and “Not I think that the vast majority of us “normal” people spend our lives trashing our treasures and treasuring our trash” (p 317).

By the way, I thought that the word retarded wasn’t political correct and should be avoided at all cost. Or, is it one of those words you can use on yourself and it’s okay? All I know is it was jarring every time I saw it in print.

Book trivia: There is a lovely picture of Martha and Adam on the back inside flap of Expecting Adam. It made me smile.

Author fact: Beck is a Harvard grad, receiving multiple degrees in sociology (B.A., M.A. and a Ph.D). I guess this is what we would call this a serial student.

Nancy said: Nancy said Expecting Adam “is a unique mixture of sophisticated humor, satire, self-deprecation, and spirituality.” She also called it, “hysterically funny” (More Book Lust, p 172).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Nagging Mothers, Crying Children” (p 172).


November New

What do you do when the most inappropriate sentiment unexpectedly comes out of someone’s mouth? A confession that should never have left the lips of the confessor? Instead of thinking of the actions I should take I chose to take none. I do nothing. Distance makes it easy to ignore and deny. When I can’t avoid I read. Here are the books started for November:

Fiction:

  • Foolscap, or, the Stages of Love by Michael Malone – Malone was born in the month of November; reading in his honor.
  • Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko – in honor of November being Native American Heritage month.
  • The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman – November is National Writing month. Choosing fantasy for this round.
  • Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller – Routsong’s birth month was in November. Reading in her honor.
  • Martin Dressler by Steven Millhauser – reading in honor of Millhauser’s birth place, New York City.

Nonfiction:

  • Expecting Adam: a True Story of Birth, Rebirth, and Everyday Magic by Martha Beck – in honor of my mother’s birth month.
  • The Caliph’s House by Tahir Shah – in honor of Morocco’s independence was gained in November.

Series continuation:

  • Scales of Gold by Dorothy Dunnett – to continue the series started in honor of Dunnett’s birth month in August.

Fun: nothing decided yet.

Early Review: I have been chosen to receive an early review but I will refrain from naming it in case it doesn’t arrive.

 


I Dreamed of Africa

Gallman, Kuki. I Dreamed of Africa. New York: Penguin Books, 1991.

Reason read: Read in honor of Gallman’s birth month.

This has got to be one of the most heart wrenching yet uplifting books I have ever read about one woman’s life experiences in Africa. After divorcing her first husband Kuki marries the widower of a friend (Kuki survives the same car accident that her friend did not). Paolo convinces Kuki and her young son to move to Kenya, a far cry from the life of privilege in Italy. There, Kuki and her son, Emanuele Pirri-Gallman, fall in love with the land, the animals, and the people of Ol Ari Nyiro. Even after Paolo is killed in a tragic accident, Kuki is determined to stay in Africa. Pregnant with his child, Kuki buries Paolo at the ranch and continues to carry out their dreams. Three years later, even after her seventeen year old son dies of a lethal snake bite, Kuki is even more determined to stay on the ranch. She buries Ema next to Paolo and slowly, through grief and time, finds new purpose to her life.

Author fact: So. I was poking around the internet and found out just last year Kuki had been shot twice while trying to defend her land. What the what???

Book trivia: Gallman includes a bevy of beautiful photographs, mostly in color, of her world. Some of the pictures are drop dead gorgeous. Some of the pictures are drop dead tragic, as well.

Nancy said: Nancy included Kuki’s I Dreamed of Africa because it was one example of a writer writing about her life in Africa following World War II (p 76) although the war is never part of Kuki’s story.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Dreaming of Africa” (p 76).


The Millstone

Drabble, Margaret. The Millstone. San Diego: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1965.

Reason read: June is national family month.

Rosamund is pregnant. In her world, this might be okay if she was married and looking to start a family. The problem is, she is a Renaissance literature scholar pursuing her doctorate and living off mommy and daddy while they tour Africa. She only became pregnant right after her first and only sexual encounter. She’s as naive as they come. She had been dating two guys at once and was still a virgin…until she met George (who she thought was gay and therefore had nothing to worry about). It is very telling when she asks herself, “I wondered on how many other serious scores would I find myself ignorant” (p 44). Just wait until you read how she thought she could make herself miscarry.
But, all is not lost. When Rosamund decides to keep the baby and starts to experience motherhood first hand a new personality emerges.

Lines I liked, “The gin kept me gay and undespairing and I thought that I might ring up George and tell him about it” (p 20), “She just stared straight ahead and the word that was written on her face was endurance” (p 75), “I knew something now of the quality of life, and anything in the way of happiness that I should hereafter receive would be based on fact and not hope” (p 158).

Author fact: A.S. Byatt and Margaret Drabble are sisters.

Book trivia: Drabble writes in pages-long paragraphs that I sometimes found distracting. Of note: there aren’t any chapters so finding good stopping points was tricky.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “All in the Family: Writer Dynasties” (p 6).


Everything You Ever Wanted

Lauren, Jillian. Everything You Ever Wanted: a Memoir. New York: Penguin, 2015.

Reason read: As a member of the Early Review program for LibraryThing I occasionally review uncorrected proofs. This is my book for March/April.

It is safe to say I devoured Everything You Ever Wanted. In the midst of reading four other books I made time for Everything every single day. But, here’s the thing – her writing is so clear, so honest, so raw that I didn’t want to rush it. I wanted to savor every page, every sentence, every word (much like I did when I reviewed her earlier work, Pretty).
Lauren wrote Everything You Ever Wanted for her adopted son, Tariku; how she came to be his forever mom, his real mom. But, here’s the beautiful thing about this book – if you know anything about Jillian Lauren you know she has had a colorful past. She is a self proclaimed former addict and slut.  With her tattoos and rocker attitude she doesn’t look like the perfect candidate to adopt a child, much less one with special needs. But Everything You Ever Wanted doesn’t sugarcoat any of her experiences, past or present. It wasn’t enough to say, “hey – I have a rough history but here’s how I got beyond it.” No, she let her past struggles give her strength to deal with new ones. This is a great read for anyone who thinks they “blew it” earlier in life and can’t start over. Even the end of Everything You Ever Wanted has shafts of sunlit hope. Despite her sex & drugs former lifestyle, Lauren and her husband want to adopt for a second time to give Tariku a sibling. By now all the agencies know her story. SPOILER ALERT: she doesn’t tell you if they are successful, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t trying.

Confessional: it is so frustrating to review an uncorrected proof! There are so many great sentences I wanted to pull out of Everything You Ever Wanted if nothing more than to say, look at how beautiful this writing is!