Remembering February

So, February was a weird month. Being sick and injured didn’t help except that both ailments gave me more time to read. Turning 47 turned out to be not a big deal. Just another number in the grand scheme of things. The groundhog didn’t see his shadow either so there are less numbers in winter… And speaking of numbers – here are the books:

  1. A.D.: After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld
  2. Beautiful Place to Die by Philip Craig
  3. If You Lived Here You’d Be Home By Now by Sandra Loh
  4. Rocksburg Railroad Murders by K.C. Constantine
  5. As She Crawled Across the Table by Jonathan Lethem (AB)
  6. Thirty Nine Steps by John Buchan
  7. Her First American by Lore Segal
  8. Down Where the Moon was Small or And I Shall Sleep…Down Where the Moon was Small by Richard Llewellyn
  9. Path to Power by Robert Caro – finishing TODAY!
  10. Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder (AB)
  11. Tom Brown’s School Days by Thomas Hughes (DNF)
  12. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieĀ  (AB) – will finish in March
  13. The Art of Dying by Patricia Weenolsen

For Fun:

  1. Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano
  2. Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
  3. The Ultimate Treadmill Workout by David Siik

For LibraryThing’s Early Review program:

  1. Liar by Rob Roberge

I also spent some time revisiting the Challenge list. Because of all the missed individual titles I wanted to redo the schedule. That took up a great deal of my time!


Strength in What Remains

Kidder, Tracy. Strength in What Remains. Read by the author. New York: Books on Tape, 2009.

Reason read: okay, so this is a stretch. Tracy Kidder is from Northampton, Massachusetts. In February 1995 I moved from New Jersey to Easthampton. In February 2002 I moved up to Northampton. (Again in a different February I moved to Chicopee but that is another story for another time.) So, in honor of the second move, moving to Northampton in February (2002), I’m reading Kidder.

This is the remarkable story of Deo, a man who survived the horrific violence of 1993 in not only Burundi but Rwanda as well. Trying to escape the political upheaval between Tutsi and Hutu, Deo fled into Rwanda only to find infighting and ethnic cleansing there as well. Finally, with $200 to his name he was able to escape to New York City where he found work as a grocery delivery boy. Earning only $15 a day he lived in Central Park to make ends meet. It was after he delivered groceries to a nun when Deo’s life drastically changed. Through her generosity Deo was able to meet a middle aged couple who essentially took him in as their own; a quasi-adoption, if you will (his parents had survived the genocide so he was not a legal orphan). They gave him a place to live but more importantly, once they found out he had been a medical student in Burundi they helped put him through school at Columbia, majoring in biochemistry and philosophy. Remarkable, considering he didn’t have a green card or visa of any kind. What’s even more remarkable is that Deo not only went on to become a doctor, but he found forgiveness and went back to his homeland to start a clinic.

I liked Kidder’s direct, never-wavering sense of storytelling. Compared to Robert Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson, Kidder maintains a linear language and nothing is off-topic. It’s as if he knows he is limited to only so many words to tell the story and he doesn’t want to waste a single one on superfluous detail.

Author fact: One of Kidder’s favorite poems is Wordsworth’s “Ode to Intimations of Immortality” and used a line from that poem for the title of his book.

Book trivia: this is the first audio I have listened to that is read by the author.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Africa: the Greenest Continent” (p 7).
Note: Throughout Book Lust To Go Pearl includes links to videos of interviews she conducted with certain authors. I decided to wait until I was reading the book to watch that author’s interview. Big mistake. The URL no longer works for Tracy Kidder so I thought the video no longer existed. The funny thing is, when I was first reading Book Lust To Go I questioned the practice of putting URLs in a book. First off, the link is cumbersome to type into a browser (When I couldn’t find the Kidder interview I was convinced I had typos in the URL.), and secondly links break and content often is removed.
UPDATED TO ADD: I contacted SeattleChannel and they confirmed, yes the Kidder video had been removed. Anything older than 2012 had been taken down (which would mean all Pearl interviews mentioned in Book Lust To Go). But. But! But, they graciously returned the video to the site and sent me the URL. It was a pleasure to watch. My favorite line from Kidder, “I’m jumping out a window and I don’t know what floor I’m on.” I LOVE that illustration of risk. I am grateful for the staff at SeattleChannel because they really came through for me.


Old Friends

Kidder, Tracy. Old Friends. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993.

There are many reviews about Old Friends that start off with, “this was hard to read.” I have to wonder how many of those reviewers are administrators at retirement/nursing/convalescent homes. Do they see their own facilities as described by Kidder? It is easy to flash back to the experiences of a loved one in such a place. My own grandparents lingered in nursing homes until their deaths. I can remember the overwhelming smell of antiseptic and urine; my father reading an activity board and commenting on a “mystery” ride. “Just don’t get into any any black, squared vehicles” he quipped. Funny, But not. Kidder’s account of life inside Linda Manor is frank and unflinching. He also writes with a profound sensitivity, introducing patients as people with past lives and present feelings. They aren’t subjects used to illustrate a point. You feel for these people because their character development is as fleshed out as if it were a fictional account. It’s beautiful in a haunting way.

Quote that struck me, “People entering nursing homes have, for the most part, already lost control over their lives” (p 23).

Reason read: September is National Aging Month

Author fact: Kidder spent a year researching life at Linda Manor, even checking himself in as a resident.

Book trivia: There is a rumor that Kidder’s father is described in this book. I didn’t investigate to confirm or deny.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 300s” (p 67).