Category Archives: Books I enjoy!

Saturday’s Book: “Pompeii” by Robert Harris

The earth can move…
Naomi’s Photos

There may all sorts of luck in this world but I am certainly a “book – lucky” kind of person.

I’ve hit the jackpot again!

The book Pompeii was waiting for me in the “readers for readers” corner outside the local library. Slightly water damaged but otherwise in good condition.

It just so happens that I plan to be in Pompeii, Italy NEXT WEEK!

This is not an academic book nor a travel guide-book! Harris managed to create an “absolutely-can’t-put-down” book full of action, suspense, and surprising turns even though the end is clear and known in advance. That volcano is going to erupt and the author knows you know it.

But the people in the story don’t know it.

And the people seem very real indeed.

I’ve read a book by Harris before, he researches the history behind his fictional books meticulously. Harris brings to life the people, the sights, sounds, and smells (it seems many think stank in those days, despite the Roman baths!) of Pompeii in its heyday, In addition, the story is told from the point of view of “The Aquarius” – the title held by an engineer in charge of an aqueduct.  I feel as if I’ve been personally introduced to the awe-inspiring wonders of the Roman Empire’s water system. To think that rich citizens back then could have RUNNING WATER in their homes, some even had hot and cold taps (pipes led to their homes), a version of toilets and swimming pools in the FIRST CENTURY AD is mind-boggling when you think about running water around the world for the centuries that followed…

If all that wasn’t enough, I really enjoyed Harris’ use of language. The descriptions are rich and vivid.

In short – this was certainly a book to “get lost” in.

Great book!

Saturday’s Book: “Address Unknown” by Kressman Taylor

Just the two of us…
Naomi’s photos

A tiny book with a BIG punch!

Wow!

I found the slender little book ( I believe the English version is only 54 pages long!) in Hebrew among my late father’s books. As a rule, I don’t read books in Hebrew that were translated from English (or vice versa) but I am fascinated by literary uses of letters and I did it have it right there in my hand…

This book is interesting in so many ways.

It’s constructed as an exchange of letters between two best friends and business partners, who originally immigrated from Germany to the United States. One of the partners, Martin,  decides to return to Berlin with his family, in 1933, while his dear Jewish friend Max remains in San Francisco.  They need to correspond because of their shared business and they want to correspond because they miss each other.

Their early letters begin by letting us in on their shared background and strong connection.

But then the letters change. The rise of Nazism and all that goes with it comes into sharper and sharper relief through the letters as Martin adopts the rhetoric of the new movement and regime.

THEN something happens.

THEN the letters become something much more than letters!

I won’t spoil it for you. I read it in an hour and that’s because I read more slowly in Hebrew.

WOW!

Making a statement…
Naomi’s Photos

This little book is also very interesting because of its back story.

Kressman Taylor isn’t the real name of the author in the usual sense. The publishers of Story Magazine in 1938 thought that such a powerful tale and such an important message would be far less effective with a woman’s name on the byline. Therefore the name Katherin was scrapped and her maiden name and last name were used.

The story was an incredible sensation, reprinted by the Reader’s Digest and then published as a book.

Sadly, the book is every bit as important to read today as it was all those years ago.

Absolutely worth reading!

Saturday’s Books: Two Books I Simply Could Not Read

Displeased…
Naomi’s Photos

Two out of the three books I borrowed from the library are being returned only partially read. These are the books:

“Here I am” by Jonathan Safran Foer

I hated the book. Really.

I have read Foer’s book “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”  and I was moved by it and found it intriguing. That book took some time to get into and I remembered that when I began the book “Here I am”. Honestly, I was prepared to give the book a chance at least up to page 80 (there are 571 pages).  I was prepared for a slow beginning.

By page 43 I couldn’t take it anymore. I felt like screaming “Let me out”!

I see absolutely no reason to continue reading a book that makes me feel that way. There are so many books waiting to be read!

You’ll have to read a review of the book somewhere else.

“Family Matters” by Rohinton Mistry

This is an entirely different case from the previous book.

I read “A Fine Balance” by Mistry and enjoyed it. This book is well written with rich descriptions and is moving.

In fact, the way the book tugs at your emotions is at the heart of the problem.

The book focuses on a man in his late 80s, whose world closes in on him as he becomes able to do less and less. It’s a sad book.

At this point, I find myself unable to read about such a situation. It’s been half a year since my own father passed away, at the age of 86. While I can find very few similarities between my father’s life and the experiences of the character in the book, I found myself dreading reading.

Not good.

But it’s hardly the author’s fault and does not reflect on the book in any way.

Yet once again, you will have to read a review of this book somewhere else.

 

 

Saturday’s Book: “The Memory of Running” by McLarty

Drops of memory?
Naomi’s Photos

I rarely (or ever?) begin a book review post this way, but here goes:

The more I read this book the less enthusiastic I became.

Just to be clear, I was extremely enthusiastic about the book when I began. The writing is beautiful, the perspective of the young boy growing up in New England with a mentally ill sister is riveting.  The word “refreshing” comes to mind. The descriptions of nature and the town are lovely too.

However, as the book progresses (it’s 405 pages long)  it becomes more and more predictable. Once again there is that classic American pattern of running away from all your problems,  embarking on a road trip (preferably cross-country), without money and at the mercy of strangers,  and emerging as a new person.

If it only it were just that. I have enjoyed all kinds of “road trip” books/movies (the one about the old man who made the trip on a lawnmower would be my first example). But the main character becomes less believable as the book wears on.  Not to mention some other things.

The tale simply becomes repetitive. It’s an awfully long journey when you are crossing the United States on a bicycle…

And the ending was so predictable.

I’m not sorry I read it.

But the disparity between the first part and the rest of the book disappointed me.

 

Saturday’s Book: “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” by Torday

Fishing Net
Naomi’s photos

Sometimes it’s feels good to read a book that is what it says it is (at least according to the blurb!) : “A feel good book with a bite”.

The book is easy to read and humorous. I have a soft spot for books written in the format of letters, with different characters moving the plot forward. I must admit I smiled while reading and finished it quite quickly.

There is a “bite” – some  commentary on politics and government. In addition, despite the fact that I remembered that this book had been  made into a romantic comedy film ( which I haven’t seen) the love story did not end up in the usual, expected way. I appreciated that.

Nonetheless, the “teacher in me” had to be hushed a few times while reading. Why couldn’t the vision they were trying to realize be to bring running water to every village? Improve access to Education and Health Care?

I know, I know. The book wouldn’t be as attractive or amusing. I get that.

But I do wish the author had omitted the “THE” before the name of the country “Yemen”! I have found explanations for the origins of such a form but it rankles…

Saturday’s Book: “Waiting” by Ha Jin

Naomi’s Photos

“Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife, Shuyu”.

That is the opening line of the book “Waiting”, which I encountered in the local library. I had not heard of the author nor had I heard of the book, but with an opening line like that, I was hooked.

The book is clever and unexpected.

For one thing, I wondered how long the author, Jin,  could keep up the main storyline of the book without becoming tiresome – it’s no spoiler to say that the hero is an army doctor, there is a nurse at the military hospital and a wife back in Goose Village.

Jin held my interest for all of the 308 pages.

The book was even more unexpected in the sense of how much background information about rural China (both historical and cultural) and social commentary Jin conveys in an indirect and subtle manner. There are no direct horror stories of “The Cultural Revolution”, nor does the quiet military doctor actively participate in any of the enterprising initiatives that open up later. But as the story unfolds, a clear picture of what it is like to live in an extremely controlled society, one in which you never seem to be truly alone, emerges as well.

Another example of a THANK YOU, LIBRARY” book – books that I find there when I stop looking for books I’ve heard about.

 

Belated Saturday’s Book: “A Place Called Peculiar” by Gallant

Who are you calling peculiar?! Naomi’s Photos

The complete title of the book is: “A Place Called Peculiar: Stories About Unusual American Place-Names”.

This is the kind of book that is fun to read parts of when you are with a group of people who can share your wonder, disbelief and a good laugh at the really unusual names of places one can find in the United States. Sadly, the rest of the time this book can sit, untouched, for years on a shelf. There’s a chapter for every state and frankly, there are only so many weird place names one can examine at a time.

When reading (or flipping through) this book you’ll encounter place names such as “Coin”, “Tea” or even one called “In Between”. And yes, there’s a town called “Peculiar” like the title of the book! Paradise (California) may (or may not) have inherited its name from a saloon called ” a pair o dice” , you can read about it (there are several other additional places called “Paradise” in the US, did you know that?).

My family and I actually visited “Chicken” Alaska and heard a slightly different version of the origin of the name. In the version we know,  the people who survived the harsh winter thanks to the ptarmigan, wanted to name the tiny TINY place in its honor. However, they couldn’t spell ptarmigan! But they could spell chicken…

Saturday’s Book: Musing On “A Tale of Love and Darkness” By Amos Oz

Naomi’s Photos

There was a report on the radio this morning, unsurprisingly, about the great writer Amos Oz who just passed away. A passage from his book ” A tale of Love and Darkness” was read. The reporter chose a passage describing the author’s meeting with Ben-Gurion.

It’s a great passage but not one I remember at all.

Other scenes from the book left strong impressions in my memory – memories not only of what was written but how I felt when reading them.

I remember the descriptions of the books, or rather the significant presence of BOOKS in Oz’s childhood. How much these books meant to his father, how painful it was for his father to part with them.

I remember the tragedy of his mother’s life and the complex relationship.

I remember how befriending children his age was complicated when growing up as an only child among angst, silences, great minds of the period and books.

I remember his struggle to forge his own way, his own identity.

I remember it took me a long time to read the book – it is not a quick, light read.

But I’m so glad I read it.

Note:

I was browsing my blog to see if I had reviewed this book in the past. I hadn’t because I began my blog in December 2010.

My blog turned eight this month and I had forgotten.

My mind is elsewhere this year – full of memories…

 

Saturday’s Book: “Just About Life” by Kevin Stein

A thoughtful moment
Naomi’s Photos

This is one of those times when I say; “Forget the students!”

I actually eagerly sat down at first to read Kevin Stein’s free book (PDF or Ebook) “Just About Life” because I did have students in mind at first. Kevin wrote this collection of short stories  (fiction) with controlled vocabulary and length, (as he explains in his post) and his intended audience is English language learners in Japan.  I’m currently particularly interested in different ways to bring vocabulary lists to life in meaningful context due to changes in the structure of our exams.

But all of that will come up in other kinds of posts. As I said, this post isn’t about teaching.

I found that I enjoyed reading the stories myself, not just as a teacher.

They were short, I read them quickly, but I find I am still thinking about some of the stories. The endings are thought-provoking, rather than your standard clear-cut, simple happy resolution style of stories.  I’m tempted to reread a few and see how I interpret some of the endings now.

I think I liked the one related to photography best – I guess that doesn’t sound surprising!

I was saddened by the silences between people in some of the stories, things left unsaid. I was wondering if that is more of a reflection of Japanese culture in these stories. I’ve watched several Japanese movies and this is an impression I have. However, I’ve never been to Japan, so please correct me if this is a misconception.

Oh, and do strawberries have a special significance?

It rocks when teachers can enjoy what was written for students!

Saturday’s Book: The Automobile Club of Egypt by Al Aswany

Naomi’s Photos

The cover states (I quote): “From the author of the million-copy selling       THE YACOUBIAN BUILDING”.

Not quite the way I would phrase it but I really did enjoy “The Yacoubian Building”!

Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this one so much.

Sometimes a winning format doesn’t work when you are trying to repeat it. At least for me. It’s true that there are still a host of characters from different socio-economic statuses (people who would never interact with each other) who find their lives intertwined on a backdrop of a dramatic time in the history of Egypt. But there is too much repetition, the characters seemed “flatter” with certain qualities emphasized again and again.

Perhaps I would have found it more interesting if I hadn’t read the previous book, but the characters failed to hold my interest for the full 496 pages…