Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Nevermore: Jonasson, Center, Patchett, Larson, Gordon, Hoffman, Honeyman

Reported by Kristin

Nevermore began our weekly Zoom meeting with The Island by Ragnar Jonasson, the second in the Inspector Hulda Hermannsdottir series after The Darkness. Jonasson did not disappoint, as a group of four friends go to a remote Icelandic island for a weekend, but only three of them come back. Our reader was especially impressed by the stellar descriptions of the countryside, and found the writing thrilling and atmospheric.

Katherine Center’s novel What You Wish For features Samantha, a school librarian who has a history with the new school principal. Duncan used to be an easygoing administrator, but now he has turned into a tough guy. Our reader said that it was a very easy, light read, which was rather mindless but very fun.

Our next reader says that every time she finishes a book she likes to ask herself what she learned. In the case of The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, for this particular reader, the answer was “absolutely nothing.” Although it was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and a New York Times bestseller, this epic story set over five decades simply did not speak to her. About the Conroy family who built a real estate empire after World War II, the characters go from poverty to wealth and back again over the generations. Our reader felt that the people were shallow and selfish, and she moved on to her next book.

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson tells the story of William Dodd, American ambassador to Germany in the early 1930s. Dodd brings his wife and children along to his post, and his daughter Martha is all too enthralled with the charming young men of the Nazi party. Hitler kept taking more and more liberties in his reach for power, and over time established a precedent that this was acceptable. Our reader highly recommended this as a snapshot of history, and as a cautionary tale in today’s politics.

Several book club members have been reading the Cole Trilogy by Noah Gordon, starting with the first book, The Physician. Set in the 11th century, an orphan boy is sold as a slave, but ends up apprenticed to a barber-surgeon. The boy wants to be a healer, and eventually makes his way into a Persian medical school. Our reader said that she is loving Gordon’s incredible writing voice, and that she can see, smell, touch, and viscerally sense everything that is happening in the series.

Another reader picked up Blackbird House by Alice Hoffman, a beautiful novel that follows the families who live in a farmhouse on Cape Cod over two centuries. Full of relationships, the stories told are somehow mystical, with symbolic white blackbirds appearing throughout the book. Our reader enjoyed it very much, and recommended it to others.

Finally, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman came back to the virtual table. As our reader commented, obviously, she is not fine. Eleanor is a young woman working in an office, and from her lack of social skills and self-isolation, it soon becomes very apparent that her mother’s cruel treatment stunted her emotionally. An arc of events forces Eleanor to interact more with her community, although she goes kicking and screaming (metaphorically) all the way. Our reader called this a lovely book, and said that Eleanor puts such care into making such bad decisions and she (the reader) relates to that.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders

Reviewed by Kristin

Once again, Book Bingo is taking me to strange places and helping me to find books I never would have picked up otherwise. This one is a little bit more roundabout than that, as I searched for a translated book. Tennessee R.E.A.D.S. included this little book in that search and it really caught my eye. Lost in Translation pinpoints unique words for very interesting concepts from around the world.

Did you know that there is a word for the time needed to eat a banana? In Malay, you would call that pisanzapra. For most people, that is about two minutes. Who knew?

Measuring distance rather than time, the Finnish language finds it important to describe poronkusema, the distance reindeer usually roam before needing to stop and rest. At 7.5 kilometers (4.7 miles) that means that Santa and his crew might need a few more breaks that commonly thought.

In German, a word exists for the tangled state that computer cables and cords get into—kabelsalat, which literally means, “cable salad.” As I look toward my feet, I see that I have a kabelsalat right here.

Sanders explores much deeper concepts as well. In Portuguese, saudade describes a “vague, constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, a nostalgic longing for someone or something loved and then lost.” Brazilians even recognize and celebrate a day of saudade every January.

Waldeinsamkeit is German for a very calm feeling, that “feeling of being alone in the woods, an easy solitude and a connectedness to nature.” I think we could all use a lot more of that these days.

A Swedish co-worker recognized fika, meaning “gathering together to talk and take a break from everyday routines, usually drinking coffee and eating pastries…often for hours on end.” She said this is much more commonly used than the Swedish word for a third cup of coffee, tretår.

I keep coming back to German words, and was rather amused by warmduscher, referring to “someone who would only take a warm shower (not an icy cold or burning hot one), implying that they are a bit of a wimp, and unwilling to step outside of their comfort zone.”

I’ll leave you wondering if I have kummerspeck, possibly from exploring pålegg, or if it is just a good case of meraki. It probably has something to do with my habit of tsundoku.

Friday, September 25, 2020

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy

Reviewed by Jeanne

This is one of those books that you hear about, someone commenting they loved it, best seller list, that sort of thing.  What is missing is, “What is the book about?”   After reading it, I can see why that part is missing, because it’s not really a book one can pigeonhole.  Described by the author as being for anyone “from eighty to eight—I feel like both sometimes,” it consists of a series of ink and watercolor drawings of the titular creatures with bits of dialog between them.

It’s a calming sort of book; the mole asks the boy what he wants to be when he grows up and the boy responds, “Kind.”  At another drawing, the mole says, “Most of the old moles I know wish they had listened less to their fears and more to their dreams.”

At one point they meet a fox caught in a snare, and though the fox tells the mole if he weren’t trapped, he would eat him, the mole frees the fox. The fox remains with the others, and (spoiler alert) does not eat the mole. That is about as much of a plot as there is, but then this book isn't about plot.

At the publisher’s site, the book is promoted as offering empathy and self-care.  That’s what this book is all about.  It’s a moment to pause and ponder, and for that reason, I think it’s best read a few pages at a time rather than all at once. 

The illustrations are charming, like those from a beloved childhood book.  Some of the illustrations put me very much in mind of Ernest Shepard’s drawings for the Winnie the Pooh books.  The text is done in a handwritten format which I confess I found a little difficult to read at times but which does add to the intimate feel of the book and complements the artwork.

So if you feel the need for a few minutes of peace during a stressful time, this is an ideal book to turn to.  It is thoughtful but not demanding and I found it soothing, encouraging, and comforting.