Monday, January 14, 2008

I know why the good earth sings

It's time for Everybody Reads 2008!

Unfortunately, not everyone saves. =( I started a nice long post in Word, but neglected to save it and my computer decided to teach me a lesson. Oh well. Preferences are now set to auto save every few minutes.

I haven’t been keeping up with my Rebel’s Book Club reports lately, so here’s a quick catch up.

The Lathe of Heaven – Ursula K. LeGuin
Motto: You’ll never believe the dream I had last night!
Plot: Average Joe changes the world in his sleep. High minded researcher decides to use this power to save the world.

Opinion: I loved this book, not in the least because it was set in my very own Portland, OR. It’s also one of my favorite kinds of sci-fi books, about the far distant future… roughly the year 2002. It’s always fun to see how the author’s predictions compare to reality. LeGuin does okay. She predicts that Mt. Hood will erupt… which it hasn’t… yet… but Mt. St. Helens did, and she predicts that the US is involved in a war in the Middle East (although to be fair… it seems like we’re always involved in a war in the Middle East). She overestimates the population of Portland, but more or less correctly describes the Max (our light rail system). All of that is really fun to read about, and I got a huge kick out of knowing where the action was occurring, in fact, fairly significant portions of the story take place at the Medical School… which is where I work.
"George Orr's apartment was on the top floor of an old frame house a few blocks
up the hill on Corbett Avenue, a shabby part of town where most of the houses
were getting on for a century, or well beyond it."

Dr. Haber's institute would be somewhere in here.

As for the actual story… it’s very trippy. The world keeps changing, but certain elements remain the same. There’s also the theme of ‘be careful what you wish for – you might get it’, and how one defines sanity in an insane world. It’s just really trippy, really cool. I may have to read it again to really get into the psychology / philosophy of it. But it’s worth a read if you’re into science fiction, or live in Portland. ;)

Stephanie Pearl-McPhee Casts Off: The Yarn Harlot’s Guide to the Land of Knitting.
Motto: When knitters take over the world…
Plot: Um.. it’s all there in the title.

Opinion: This isn’t the Yarn Harlot’s best work, and I wasn’t going to buy it, but I started flipping through it at the store and found myself laughing out loud so I caved. I know not everyone loves the Harlot, and I can see why, but I love her if for no other reason than that her obsession with knitting makes me look normal by comparison. I’m not going to recommend that anyone go out and buy this book – but you can borrow my copy if you’re interested.

The Good Earth – Pearl S. Buck
Motto: A man must work from sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done.
Plot: Wang Lung, a young farmer in China, gets married, works hard, lives long & prospers.

Opinion: This is such a simple story, but so beautiful. Wang Lung is so human. He is a good man, hard working, but flawed. His wife Olan is selfless, and so strong in her own way. We see the full circle of their life, for richer for poorer, in sickness and health. Buck portrays it all with an unvarnished honesty, which makes it all the more beautiful. There’s a reason this one is a classic.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
Motto: Black is Beautiful
Plot: An autobiography that takes us from rural Arkansas in the 1930s to San Francisco during World War II.

Opinion: Nothing I can say will do justice to this book. Angelou has a gift. I don’t know how she managed to come through the tragedies and injustices of her life with such grace and strength and beauty. But she did. She says:

“The Black female is assaulted in her tender years by all those common forces of
nature at the same time that she is caught in the tripartite crossfire of
masculine prejudice, white illogical hate and Black lack of power. The
fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is
often met with amazement, distaste and even belligerence. It is seldom
accepted as an inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors and deserves
respect if not enthusiastic acceptance.”

Well, she gets my respect and enthusiastic acceptance. But I don’t think she gives herself enough credit for how amazing she really is. The strength and openness that she has is *not* an inevitable outcome of her struggle. I think very few people can live through what she’s lived through and emerge with such grace and dignity and love. Lots of people fall apart, lots of people become hard-hearted, lots of people just give up. I don’t know how she does it, but she’s one of my heros now. Read this book to feel inspired.

Now onto my to-read list for 2008.

The first book on my list is “a long way gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier” by Ishmael Beah. This is the Everybody Reads book for Portland this year, which is good because it’s one I’ve heard a lot about and have been wanting to read & I got it for free =) (have I mentioned how much I love this town!). I expect it will be a bit hard to get through, but hopefully it won’t be a complete downer.

After that, in no particular order:

The Audacity of Hope – Barack Obama

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe
The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne
Catch-22 – Joseph Heller (I bought this a while ago with the intention of re-reading it, but never did. I just need to plow through the first 8 chapters, after that I remember it gets really good)
A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson

I'm looking into suggested books: Persuasion, Anna Karenina, Tender is the Night, The Beautiful & Damned, Of Love & Other Demons, and Pride & Prejudice. But haven't picked any of them up yet.

And the autobiographies… MLK, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela; these have been on my shelf since Bush was “reelected” and I keep meaning to read them. Perhaps I can get through them if I bribe myself with something fun to read afterwards… any suggestions for fun, light or humorous books? I like fiction & non-fiction, science fiction, some chick-lit, any genre really, if it's good.

Oh... and are any of you on Shelfari? It's a networking site for bibliophiles, you put all your books on a virtual book shelf, leave reviews, read reviews and chat about book-related topics. Knitty folk - it's like Ravelry but for books, and actually I've been spending more time on Shelfari than I have on Ravelry lately.


Magatha said...

I am so glad you enjoyed Lathe of Heaven. I knew you would. ;)
I read the Good Earth so long ago, I think in elementary school. I can't even remember it well.

I need to check out Shelfari. I tried to use Library Thing and it never 'took'.

Stariel said...

I read The Good Earth in 6th grade and really didn't like it - in fact I haven't read it since then so it very well may be a good book but I remember even at the time questioning whether it was appropriate for 6th graders...

Rebel said...

Yeah, the writing style is simple enough for an elementary school level reader, but the content probably wouldn't be appreciated by anyone that young.

Which brings up the issue of what should students read? Most of the classics we read back in the day were meant for an adult audience, which might be why as a kid I just didn't enjoy them.

Melissa said...

I've added Lathe of Heaven to my list (don't do Shelfari). It sounds like an interesting book.

mlle b said...

I'm so pleased to see other people agree with my opinion of "the classics." I feel like I read all of them so early that I didn't fully appreciate them. But then maybe I wouldn't realize that if I hadn't gone through the experience of reading them? Anyway, I'm always looking for good recommendations!!

jenn said...

Looking at your list of recommended books, I noticed The Beautiful and Damned. If I were you I would definitely read The Great Gatsby first (which it looks like you are doing) and then imagine if you still would have enjoyed The Great Gatsby if none of the characters had any redeeming qualities and the plot were a lot less complicated. The Beautiful and Damned has its merits, but dude, rich, self-absorbed drunks are only fun for so long.

Your post also made me realize that I need to get back into my reading habit, because I don't read nearly as much as I used to, and I miss it.

BTW, I also agree about the classics being largely wasted on kids (except for the rare one that kids can enjoy and mostly understand, like To Kill a Mockingbird).