Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Book 10 of Books That Blew Me Away

High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never by Barbara Kingsolver

This has been on my shelf for more years than I care to say. It was published in 1995. I return to it again and again because of the beauty of the language and the vision into the life of a writer traveling the world. And yet one of the most tender stories tells about my two favorite subjects – motorcycles and librarians.  Set in her high school in Kentucky, Kingsolver tells of her intellectual and moral coming of age reading the books of the library in “How Mr. Dewey Decimal Saved My Life.” So, my final book ends with the injunction to the reader. “Here today, gone tomorrow. It’s the best reason I can think of to throw open the blinds and risk belief. Right now, this minute, time to move out into the grief and glory.”

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Book 9 of Books that Blew Me Away

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

There are many reasons we enjoy reading. Sometimes I read because it strips my illusions away. My eyes are cleaned and I see the world anew. This is the story of Bone, a girl stained by the label of “bastard” on her birth certificate. In the midst of the poverty, abuse, and violence, her mother focuses her shame on this label. Bone is raped and beaten by her mother’s boyfriend. Raylene, Bone’s aunt, takes her to raise. As Bone is recovering, her mother comes with the revised birth certificate, asks for forgiveness, and disappears without saying where she will go. Allison writes of the societal oppression in the South, the abject poverty and violence, the aching loneliness of Bone, her anxiety over her sexual identity, the vicious rape, and the bare violence of her life. It took me a while to get over this book. Allow for recovery after reading this. Wipe your eyes and look at a flower. But read it.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Number 8 of books that blew me away

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance

As I said, I have returned South. Vance’s about his story about his family’s move from Appalachian Kentucky to Ohio and his eventual graduation from Yale Law School is well written. Along with his personal tale of a family torn by poverty, drugs, violence, and abuse, he quotes studies about the economic and sociological/psychological factors involved. In his grandparent’s exodus from Appalachia and his escape from a life of drugs and social services to the Marines, I hear a familiar trajectory. He loses me when he speaks with academic authority and begins to prescribe for the health of the Appalachia he no longer embraces. He looks back from his position as an investor in a leading venture capital fund and, unfortunately, predicts and prescribes about the elements needed for upward mobility (or escape) in government policy and personal values.  Along the way, he has pissed a lot of people off.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Number 7 of books that blew me away

Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy

Home I came to the South and in some ways, it is as if I never left. That is how this book made me feel. I knew some of these folks in my time - hell, I still know some of them. Jacob McNeely of Cashiers, a small North Carolina mountain town, has only one flickering candle left in the window, his high school love, Maggie. Hip deep in the world of meth dealing presided over by his father; Jacob is set to inherit the “family business.” Maggie can see a different life but can Jacob? I have too many friends who could not, who settled for what they had in hand. Dust to dust. I also was privileged to meet the author; I liked him. I encourage you to read the essay in the Bitter Southerner at:


Saturday, May 5, 2018

Book 6 of books that blew me away

Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Pulitzer Prize winner for 2017 (among other awards), Whitehead drew me in and kept me believing in his alternative history novel. Using history, true and altered, and magical realism, he follows two slaves escaping in the 1800’s. I found that the gritty truth of the history of slavery mixed with the magical underground railroad ( a real underground train!) helped to balance my emotional response as a reader. The truth of history is too brutal for hope. Whitehead’s novel allows hope and magic.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Number 5 of books that blew me away

Tell Me a Riddle by Tillie Olsen (1961) brings the sent of my grandmother’s iron to me in “I Stand Here Ironing.” This is a small collection of short stories with words as carefully chosen as the stones in the pocket of a four-year-old, and just as valuable. The lives on display here can be pondered for a long time. Take the time to think after reading this.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Number 4 of books that blew me away

Hang on to your hats folks.

NW by Zadie Smith (2012) brought me to my knees as a reader. Once I recovered I read it again. This book is thick with both action and philosophy and literary tricks. I had to take notes to follow the characters and who was talking as well as do some reading on the background of London culture. It follows four characters in northwest London using a variety of literary techniques - switching voices, a stream of consciousness narrative, and incomplete thoughts that linger unanswered. Reading this book is not an easy undertaking but I found it rewarding and disturbing in the way life is.