Thursday, March 17, 2016

Spinster by Kate Bolick

The premise of this book is fascinating and, perhaps, long overdue. In this book, Kate Bolick poses the theory that being single and alone, particularly as a woman, is preferable to being married. This book is, in part, a memoir in which Bolick explores her journey to feel comfortable as a single woman of a certain age while at the same time providing small histories of the women that have impacted her life: Edna St. Vincent Millay, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Maeve Brennan among them.

I would classify this book as being more closely related to Eat, Pray, Love or Wild, in which Bolick attempts to decide HOW she wants to live and seems to defend her singledom. I did enjoy learning about Ms. Bolick's "awakeners" - the women that she says influenced her the most.  However, the parts of the book that I found more and most fascinating were the parts that were memoir based where Bolick was describing her life and memory and her own personal struggles.  Her voice is unique and grabs you.  Ms. Bolick was also really good at describing the seeming double life of young people - the life that we seem to live in public, going out and working, talking or falling in love and the private one - making plans and to do lists and dreaming. What doesn't seem to hold up is that the women that Bolick said motivated her weren't true spinsters in the traditional meaning of the word - at some point in their lives they WERE married. SOme of them were happily married. I think that the message that Bolick was trying to convey was that these women lived lives on their own terms regardless of the social rules that were placed upon them and that was why they were so influential upon her.

My other critiques are more grand and general. Bolick obviously knows that women at some point, if they are authors, are almost required to write about their dating life.  WHy do WOMEN have to do this and the same pressure does not exist for MEN?  Knowing this, why did she give in to the social stricture that was placed on HER? She spends a TON of time talking about the appearances of the women that were influential even though all of them were REALLY educated and successful in their own rights. How is their appearance important?  Are we REALLY still putting more emphasis on looks than on accomplishment when it comes to women?  This book held lots of promise and I generally liked reading the history of the amazing women that influenced her - there aren't enough of those - and Bolick shows promise as far as her voice. But this book didn't go as far as I wanted it to. I think that the next one that Bolick writes will hopefully hit the nail on the head.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz


David Lagercrantz, a Swedish journalist, could easily have waited until the original Millenium Trilogy achieved classic status (which I'm nearly sure it will) before continuing the series.  But he elected to continue it right away. The success of these novels is and continues to be the two main characters: Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander and their unique relationship. I was so happy to hear that the series was continuing because Lisbeth has to be one of the BEST heroines that has ever been created.  If there's one character that I would want to be in my corner, it's her.  She's tough as nails, smart as hell, fearless, loyal and has a heart bigger than her body.

Which leads me to my major concern about this novel. While I was VERY excited about more Lisbeth Salandar, would a new author completely and utterly much it up? Lisbeth is VERY unique and so, would only Stieg Larsson be able to give us her as she must be and should be? So I admit that I opened the novel with a very critical eye towards the characters and the plot.  The novel starts in Maryland at the NSA where their most private of servers has been hacked. This sets the tone for the rest of the novel, where the technology itself almost seems to be a character in and of itself. Oh and there is also a mute, autistic eight year old boy, who is a savant that needs to be protected in order to solve a crime and there's code breaking and REALLY bad, sadistic enemies. THe plot itself was just fine and moved quickly after the first 20 or so pages. In fact it only took me about three days to finish the novel because it moved so quickly.
But what about Lisbeth right?  Lisbeth is mentioned in the prologue but is given to us slowly, in bits and pieces. A tease. It's not until page 216, halfway through the book, that she actually talks to her co-star: Blomkvist and even then, the rest of the book isn't nearly as edgy as Larsson's books.  Everything we hear and see of her is told to us third hand by witnesses to her acts, not really as she's experiencing. I wanted more of her as the edgy Lisbeth. Don't get me wrong, the book IS entertaining but maybe my problem was that I expected my old Lisbeth to return.  Definitely a good distracting read for vacations, just set your expectations accordingly. This isn't Larsson's Lisbeth.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

This book has been all over everyone's radar lately, from the folks at NPR to the folks at BookRiot to Ann and Michael at Books on the Nightstand. Since the three major sources of my reading material were all super positive, I borrowed it from my local library. Essentially, it seems, this book was born of the pain of others and the premise that experiencing the pain of others requires imagination and a leap of faith. It's all kinds of pain - physical, emotional, economic, mental, you name it. This book is a collection of essays that the author has penned over the last few years about pain and how people other than her experience it. She has lots of questions too: what do all these sorts of pain mean? What do we do about it?

Her focus seems to be the space between the person suffering the pain and the person who is observing the sufferer and how to bridge that gap. Her stories fill both categories: in two of them, she is the one that is suffering and needs empathy (in one because she's getting an abortion and in the other, heart surgery). In the others, she visits a conference for people that suffer from Morgellons and also, an ultramarathon (though not the same group of people!). In every case, she seemingly carefully notes the empathetic responses or lack thereof and the mechanisms. And she does a magnificent job - her imagery and metaphors are second to none.

Definitely worth the purchase

Godspeed Ms. Lee

Dear Harper:

You died on February 16, 2016 so I must make my apologies for no writing you sooner and memorializing you in my own way. It is completely inhuman of me and disrespectful, giving the esteem with which I hold you and how you have influenced my life in a positive way.

I first read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was in ninth grade at Memorial High School. At that time, I found it fascinating that a group comprised of two children, their single father and their Black cook could so easily form a unit.  I was more fascinated by the adventures that the children had and what happened to Scout at the end of the book, with Atticus just being a character that flitted around the edges, no more important than Calpurnia or Boo. As a 13 year old or 14 year old, I think that I had related more to Scout than anyone else in the book and in some ways I probably still do (since she is loosely based upon you and we probably had more in common than not).  This is, however, one of those few books that you can read at various parts of your life and upon each reading, you can read many times at different parts of your life and still take away many, many lessons. It was so with me and this book.  I found the racial relationships described in teh book fascinating - how did Calpurnia feel about her position? What did her family and friends think?  What did the black and white communities think of her role and what those communities in real life?

And then there was Atticus.  Oh, Atticus!  How you created a character that people grew to adore, love even, respect and emulate. He was the person that you wanted to model your behavior after, particularly when it came to how to treat people and wisdom. Those were two things that made him one of the most admirable people in literature but perhaps, most importantly, he is why I and countless others went to law school.  He stood up for the underdog and the person that culture silenced, even though it came at much personal emotional, financial and physical risk. He showed his belief that everyone deserved the best representation possible regardless of who they were and he did his best.  Whenever I feel that I'm losing my vision of what I am doing in my own job and life as a lawyer/trainer/educator, I read the book again and it re focuses me and puts me on the right path again.  I remember why I'm doing what I'm doing and why it's important. It continues to drive me forward.

Thank you. Thank you, Thank you. When you wrote To Kill A Mockingbird, I often wonder if you anticipated how far reaching and how much of an impact your novel would h ave.  I'm not sure it would have been looked at twice if you had released Go Set A Watchman first, but that's not what happened so I won't speculate.  The point is, your work has had an impact not on just my own, small, life but on a much bigger level.  May you rest in peace Harper and thank you!

The Power by Naomi Alderman

If you liked The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, you will want to read this dystopian novel, which has won a number of awards in th...