Category Archives: Books I enjoy!

Saturday’s Book: “About Grace” by Anthony Doerr

Faded glory…
Naomi’s Photos

This is a “Yes, but…” kind of book.

The “YES” part is pretty easy to describe:

  • Yes, it IS the same author that wrote “All the light we cannot see” . I enjoyed that book.
  • Yes, the style of writing is unique, the descriptions are rich and full of attention to detail. I’m sure that if someone wanted to adapt the book into a film, the visuals  would aspire  would be crystal clear.
  • The first part is great.
  • The author is skilled at ensuring you don’t jump ship mid way, even though the thought of quitting seemed quite attractive throughout the long middle section of the book.

BUT…

  • The plot that IS there REALLY requires you to suspend belief.
  • There’s very little plot and it moves slowly.  SLOWLY. The author must have wanted readers to truly have the sensation of time moving slowly…
  • It felt like the book was more about style than substance.

In short, I enjoyed the first part of the book. I did not succumb to temptation and quit because of the magnetism of the style and a desire to find out what really happened to Grace.

If this book was ever adapted into a movie I wouldn’t go to see it.

Saturday’s Book & “Reading Crisis”: “Hamilton” by Chernow

So many books… Naomi’s Photos

 

I can’t recall ever being in this kind of “bookish crisis”.

I have been interested in the book “Hamilton” since the whole Hamilton hysteria began. While I haven’t had the pleasure of attending a theatre production I certainly am familiar with the songs, the storyline and know a lot about the musical.

When the book actually landed on my table, I eyed it worriedly for several weeks. It’s a HUGE paperback edition. There are 820 pages though the actual text is only 731 pages. Believe me, the length of the book isn’t the issue, I have read longer books.  It is simply physically unwieldy. I assume this is the result of publishers wanting the print to be of a size that people over 50 would be able to read (I do appreciate that!) but try holding that in bed, or curled up on the sofa, or over lunch at a safe distance from your plate (in an upright position).

As someone who always says that a book is about the words, the story, the feeling and the message, irrelevant of t the physical form in which you enjoy it (printed, digital, audio) I felt very guilty about being dismayed at the shape of the book. I even considered buying a digital version but it did seem a waste of money considering that I actually have a printed copy on my table.

BIG… Naomi’s Photos

My bookish crises continued in the strangest manner after I began reading the book.

The book is really interesting and very well written. I loved it that the author chose to begin his book with the character of Hamilton’s wife, Eliza. In fact, the author pays a lot of attention and respect to women and their role in Hamilton’s life and in the American Revolution.

I found the part about Hamilton’s early life in the Caribbean (and his parents’ lives) fascinating as I really knew very little about those islands at that time, not to mention the slave trade related to the sugar commerce on those islands.  It was mind-boggling to read how quickly the brilliant Hamilton reached the epicenter of things within a fairly short time after arriving in the US.

As someone who is interested in geneology, I was also very interested in how the author presented family information with incomplete data – relying on sources from the period but clearly stating what is known for sure and what is an “educated guess”.

The American revolution was a lot messier and precarious than what I remembered from my school days in Massachusetts and I have to admit (or confess?) that there is a great deal I didn’t know or didn’t remember – the initial goal of the revolution wasn’t complete independence as a new country, the assistance of the French was extremely significant or the story of the Benedict Arnold’s wife.

It was also a revolution that spanned 8 years.

At page 151 the end of the revolution is not in sight.

I found myself interested in the book while I was reading it, but reading it less and less.

And less and less.

And then not reading Hamilton but not reading anything else because I’m reading Hamilton.

Naomi not reading any books?

AARGH!!!

So, on August 1st I officially stopped reading Hamilton and am now close to completing another book.

There.

I admitted it.

May you be more patient than me, it really is a good book.

 

 

Saturday’s Book: “The Story of San Michele” by Munthe

In Axel Munthe’s home, San Michele
Naomi’s Photos

This book “took me” on an exciting, wild journey with the author and I enjoyed it immensely. It’s always full of life,  fascinating, funny at times or quite sad and moving at others.

While the book is presented as Munthe’s memoirs, describing his time as a young Swedish doctor who studied under Charcot in Paris at the end of the 19th century, his work in Italy, various wild adventures and his love affair with the Isle of Capri and the home he built there, San Michele, it should not be seen as a factual biography.

According to the Wikipedia entry about the man and the book, it seems Munthe omitted all sorts of things (such as the fact that he was NOT single and even had children…)  and may certainly have exaggerated some of his adventures. Nevertheless, there is no dispute regarding the fact that while Munthe earned a great deal of money from the rich he constantly used his skills as a doctor to serve the poor without any remuneration and was a great lover of animals.

In Axel Munthe’s home at San Michele
Naomi’s Photos

Frankly, Munthe was a wonderful storyteller and it doesn’t bother me that the lines between what actually happened and what he would have liked to have happened were blurred. The book is a great read!

Once again, as I have said before, I’m “book lucky”.  I recently visited Munthe’s house (well worth visiting!). On returning home I discovered that the book is already in the public domain and is available for free download on various platforms. It’s great to read a book I enjoy that ties in with my trip like that!

Saturday’s Book: “84 Charing Cross Road” by Helene Hanff

Different lives behind different windows can connect…
Naomi’s Photos

What a BIG SMILE of a book!

That may be a grammatically incorrect statement but it is the best way to describe how reading the book made me feel.

I read this quite short book, composed entirely of an exchange of letters, in 24 hours. I began it before bedtime (and turned off my reading lamp rather later than usual) and completed it as soon as I got home from work the next day.

I think I smiled the whole time.

The correspondence begins shortly after the end of World War Two and is between the actual author, who presents herself as a poor American screenwriter and author, living alone in New York and an Antiquarian bookseller in Charing Cross Road, London. The touching, engaging and often humorous correspondence spans 20 years.

I  don’t want to give too many details in case you haven’t read the book ( I’m sure many have somehow I missed it!) as it’s better to discover the characters’ lives as you read, but I also found it interesting to be reminded of an era when people traveled less and there was no Internet. Helen has no idea how to “translate” pounds into dollars and sends actual cash in envelopes (we actually used to do that for years, too!!!). More than that, it was a revelation to her how difficult times were for the British in the years right after the war ended!

Sometimes,  “sharing” (via a book) a friendship between people from different countries who have never met, is just what a person needs to read and be reminded of.

Particularly so when one takes into account the fact that I learned of this book AND was lent a copy by a friendly colleague whom I lent the book “Address Unknown”, which is another book composed of letters.

It’s always good to talk to people about books!

Enjoy!

 

 

Saturday’s Book: “The Leavers” by Lisa Ko

Journeys…
Naomi’s Photos

This is a good book.

A sad one and an important one very relevant to our world today.

Vivid, clear, engaging and moving.

The book is told from the point of view of the two main characters and in their “voices”. The tale moves between these voices.

There is the story of a young Chinese woman with an individualistic streak, who dreams of making her own way in life, forgoing the future mapped out for her. We learn how she arrives in the USA, saddled with debt to those who brought her there, how she is taken advantage of as a worker, striving to pay off these debts. Her son is born in the US…

The other voice is that of the son. One day, when he was in the fifth grade, his mother vanishes. No one knows what happened to her. No one can explain to him why his mother abandoned him and his whole life turned upside down. He is adopted by well-meaning people who bring him into an environment with no diversity, he is the only who looks different despite his new American name.  The feeling of exhaustion arising just from being so conspicuous every single day wherever he goes is just one of the several issues that could be discussed while reading the book.

What happens to each of these characters unfolds as you read on.

I believe the book would be even better if it were a little shorter – more focused. I found that when the story was told from the point of view of the son it was a bit too long, belaboring details that were clear. I did not have this issue during the parts told by the mother.

I certainly recommend the book.

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…