Friday, August 20, 2010

ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE – Barbara Kingsolver

Monday was Jay County Public Library book group and this was our chosen title. Pretty good show this time! There were nine of us and discussion went pretty well. Most of us had read Kingsolver's novels and they are delightful. Many of us agreed that our favorite of her novels was The Poisonwood Bible. Animal, Vegetable however, is a work of nonfiction. It chronicles one complete year for the Kingsolver family after they move from Arizona to Virginia to live upon only locally grown food. It is a book to make you think about your food and what the complete cost of every morsel is.

I don't think there is an issue that isn't examined when it comes to food production. She tackles corporate farming, CAFOs, processed foods, pesticides and hormones in farming, transportation of foodstuffs, exotic imports, farm subsidies, taxes to support the food industry, vegetarianism and much more.

This is truly a thought-provoking work. I spent many hours in hmmmm mode thinking about chapters and ideas. She definitely made me think about how much meat we eat. By the time I finished the chapter on carnivory I felt better though. She had many statistics on the price of eating only vegetables when you add up the cost of fossil fuels used to get it to you, the resources depleted growing it in hostile environs, the packaging etc. While it is a known fact that Americans need to eat less meat, it isn't actually helping the unprivileged in any way to do so like so many try to tell us. According to Kingsolver anyway.

Her style is as usual engaging with delightful storytelling and a rich vocabulary. Her family is intelligent, dedicated to each other and to their experiment. I believe the author's aim is to make us more aware of our food and our impact on our world by what we choose to consume. Also she would like us all to get better in touch with our environment including our neighbors in order to be productive and helpful. Their year was filled with a lot of joy, much learning, and some travail. Overall, it was a very good read for nonfiction which isn't my usual fare.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

THE THIN PLACE - Kathryn Davis

I actually picked this short novel up last summer and kept looking at it all year but other titles kept getting in my way. I was intrigued with the cover for one thing (I tell my students not to do that – pick a book by its cover) and then the idea of a story about a small closely knit town of church goers piqued my interest.

After spending a good part of yesterday sitting on my porch swing with this book I am a bit aggravated to realize I have no idea who the strange looking people on the cover are supposed to be! What is the deal? Now I want to talk to the cover artist or the publisher because I want to know why there are no recognizable characters depicted. Oh well. It is actually an extraordinary read and quite peculiar. Not really like anything I have read before.


The book is set in a small town named Varennes which is apparently close to the Canadian border. There are three preteen girls who have been best friends since kindergarten. It begins when these three girls come upon a seemingly dead Mr. Banner on the beach. While two girls go for help Mees Kipp stays with him. As she sits with him the reader realizes that Mees has some kind of spiritual powers and she revives him. All the while the other two girls are dealing with trying to get help from other neighbors and the reader learns that Lorne is a slightly pudgy child forever looking for stability and acceptance. Sunny is the pretty one, the good one, the boss of all.

 

After that introduction the point-of-view jumps among various characters even the neighborhood animals. Also the narrative is not always in the same form. Sometimes it is in the form of a police blotter, a letter to a friend, or a diary entry. But the reader starts to feel the lives connect and to feel the thin place where the miraculous may slip through.

Don't be mislead, this is not a sweet syrupy story of finding religion. The reader is privy also to the hidden lives of the community members and of course there is plenty of deceit, lust, manipulation, and meanness. All along also one character is reading a piece of Varennes history as she rebinds the journal of a late 19th-century schoolmarm who apparently had a secret romance and was responsible for the drowning of many of her pupils in what has become known as the Sunday School Outing Disaster.

 

My favorite character is Helen Zeebrugge. At 92 she resides at the Crockett Home for the Aged and is always angry at what she sees as the ineptitude and condescension of her caretakers. She is a spunky old gal and all the chapters she is in are so good. Her son, Piet, is obsessed with exercise, looking young and finding his fifth wife. He is irritating but he does look out for Helen.
 

There is an interesting high school French teacher and a new-to-town book binder. One chapter includes the escapades of the neighborhood dogs running at night replete with all the canine thoughts and insights. Finally there is much excitement in church one Sunday when criminals break in and the newly installed security system fails, so to speak.

LETHAL LEGACY - Linda Fairstein

My friend Ingrid gave me this book at last Monday's Public Library Book Club. She knew I would like it as it is a mystery about rare books, maps and the NYC Public Library. I loved everything about the NYC library and visited it 3 times during the time our kids lived there. Anyway, it took me all week to finish it because I was so busy and dratted things kept getting in my way. Therefore even though I took it everywhere I went all week I didn't finish it until this afternoon.
 

Assistant district attorney, Alexandra Cooper is called to an apartment on the upper east side of Manhattan to an investigation. At the scene the neighbor of Tina Barr is sure the young woman has been the victim of an assault. However, Tina who is a noted conservator of rare books and maps will not cooperate with the authorities. A few days later in the very same apartment another young woman is bludgeoned to death and Alex is once again called in. The dead woman is clutching a very rare book and is dressed in the clothes of noted heiress Minerva Hunt who appears upon the scene to identify the victim as her employee. A few days later while she is working on a conservation project in the library Tina Barr is murdered and her body dumped in Central Park. So the plot thickens including mysterious messages found on the corpses, a dropped key, a hidden cemetery in the city, a noted wealthy family fighting over rare family owned books and maps, and missing pieces of the oldest map in the world.
 

Alex hooks up with her two friends on the NYC police department and the intrigue unfolds. What I really liked about the book, being a bibliophile myself, was all the interweaving of the workings of the NYCPL including how acquisition and deaccession of legacy donations is handled, the details about how conservators work, and also the history of the best-known New York collectors of rare books and maps.
 

I got a little bogged down with the minutia of police procedure and lingo but then again that happens to me often when I read a police thriller. It was fun and kept my attention. Here is my favorite quotation from page 302
           "“Now how do you know that?” Mike asked, patting her  on the back. “I've got a library card, Mr. Chapman. It serves me well.”"

Ah, yes. Libraries have always served me well and I hope they do the same for you my friends.