#59 ~ Gardens of Water

February 15, 2008 at 1:22 pm | Posted in Books, Culture, Family, LibraryThing, Religion, Sexual Identity | 9 Comments
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Gardens of Water: A Novel by Alan Drew

Gardens of Water tells the story of how the lives of a working class, conservative Muslim family from outside of Istanbul were impacted by the horrible earthquake of 1999. Sinan Basioglu, a hard-working man with a club foot, tries to do his best by his family and keep close to his God. Circumstances force them to take shelter in a relief camp established by Christian Americans. This time spent at the camp is most especially confusing to İrem, Sinan and Nilüfer’s 15-year-old daughter. Living in the camp provides her with a freedom she hasn’t known since her early childhood. When she falls in love with Dylan, the teenage son of an American expatriate teacher, the entire Basioglu family is caused to question who they are and what is expected from them.

It’s interesting to me how there are times when two or three books I read in a row carry a similar thread. Gardens of Water, although it takes place in the Middle East, continued my thoughts on the plight of women in society. In The Tea Rose, Fiona struggled against the prevailing prejudice that women are not capable to and should not run businesses. The female characters in The Witch’s Trinity were accused of witchcraft when life became hard because of the Judeo-Christian prejudices against them that began with Eve’s first bite of that apple in the Garden of Eden. For a Muslim girl like İrem, a simple school girl crush could threaten to ruin her family name and negatively impact her younger brother’s future. For many women, life is not all that more safe today than it was back in the time of the witch trials.

Alan Drew’s debut novel is rich in its details about life in Turkey and about what it feels like and means to be Muslim. I found this especially true in his descriptions of the scenery. I felt like I saw Istanbul from a distance and could feel the water over my toes. The scene where Sinan was carrying televisions on his back as he tried to hustle through the streets of Instanbul was probably my favorite. Not only did I feel Sinan’s desperation, I felt his isolation as a Kurd in Turkish society. If you are interested in Kurdish culture, the family life of modern conservative Muslims, or are just looking for an involving book to read, I strongly suggest Gardens of Water.

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To buy this novel, click here.

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#52 ~ The Autobiography of Henry VIII

December 20, 2007 at 6:19 pm | Posted in Books, Henry VIII, Historical Fiction, Philippa Gregory, Reading, Religion, Sexual Identity | 8 Comments
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The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers by Margaret George

As 2007 was the year that I fell in love with the Tudors, what better way to close it than by reading this book by Margaret George? It was a great choice. From the beginning where Will Somers and Catherine Carey Knollys exchange letters regarding the “manuscript” of Henry’s memoirs through the very end where Will writes about Henry’s funeral it is a pleasure to read.

Having read all of Philippa Gregory’s Tudor series and the Carolly Erickson‘s The Last Wife of Henry VIII first in no way diminished this book. George’s descriptions of the executions of Anne Boleyn and her male companions gave me an almost physical response despite the fact that I knew what was going to happen. I had a hard time getting to sleep the night I read those accounts. I found myself willing Catherine Howard to get a clue/brain and change her behavior. Alas, she did not.

It was interesting to see how different authors portrayed the different historical characters. For example, Mary Boleyn is portrayed completely different here than she is in The Other Boleyn Girl. She is simply a royal whore in this book while she is a woman forced to become a token in her family’s plot in Gregory’s novel. It may simply be naive on my part, but I hope that she really was a woman of some virtue. Someone had to have been. I also enjoyed the characterization of both Mary Tudor, Queen of France and Charles Brandon.

In the other books, Henry came off as plain crazy and perhaps even a touch evil. In George’s book I liked that Henry felt more human. We can all delude ourselves when we want reality to fit into a specific box. It’s just that Henry had executioners available to take care of the messier realities. I really enjoyed this version of the love affair between Henry and Katherine of Aragon. How might history have changed had their son lived? Where would the Tudors be today? Although this book was over 900 pages long, it was a quick and enjoyable read. It was a wonderful way to complete my reading goal for the year.

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To buy this novel, click here.

#48 ~ The Ice Queen

November 14, 2007 at 4:51 pm | Posted in Books, Childhood Memories, Family, Sexual Identity | 1 Comment
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The Ice Queen: A Novel by Alice Hoffman

Something I’ve never really warmed up to in general fiction is not naming the narrator. I suppose that author’s have their reasons. I might by it in circumstances where the reader could be the narrator or “anyone” could be the narrator. This is not the case in The Ice Queen, the story of a young woman who is plagued by relationships with other people after she wished her mother to never come home the night her mother’s car runs off the road and kills her. I don’t believe that this narrator could be “anyone,” so this narrative device doesn’t work for me. It frustrates me instead. That being said, I enjoyed reading this book and exploring the narrator’s world (henceforth referred to as Jane).

As I read the beginning of this book, I felt very much for Jane. As a child,who didn’t have negative “wishes” or thoughts about one’s parents from time to time? How would your life be different had your parent died before you saw them again? Jane simply determined that she was a selfish and unlovable soul. She became introverted and obsessed with death. Jane finds that she is a good listener and only has a series of casual sexual affairs throughout her life. As soon as a suitor indicates that he wants more than sex, she ends the relationship.

Jane and Ned, her older brother, were taken in by their maternal grandmother after the car accident. They were close as children. Jane grows up loving Grimm’s Fairy Tales while Ned prefers the scientific. He becomes a meteorologist and moves to Florida to work at Orlon University, the school at which his wife is also a professor. Jane remains in New Jersey. She becomes a research librarian and takes care of their grandmother. Although they haven’t remained close, Ned convinces Jane to move to Florida with him after their grandmother’s passing. On the way down there, Jane makes a near fatal wish to be struck by lighting. It didn’t take long for her wish to become reality.

This book explores how lives are impacted by one single factor. This story was an interesting story within which to wonder “what would happen if.” I enjoyed reading about her relationship with her brother and sister-in-law. Her struggles with friendships and adult relationships felt true to her. This may not be a story that will live with me forever o even next year, but I enjoyed my time in this world. It is a pleasant read. Everyone wishes for one of those every now and again.

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To buy this novel, click here.

#47 ~ Without a Map

November 11, 2007 at 4:29 pm | Posted in Adoption, Beach, Books, Childhood Memories, Culture, Inspiration, LIfe, Memoir, Parenting Dilemmas, Post-Partum Depression, Reading, Religion, Secrets and Lies, Sexual Identity, Writing | 2 Comments
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Without a Map: A Memoir by Meredith Hall

I am angry. Correction. I am pissed. Really, I’m f*cking pissed off after reading this book. I am angry and hurt for Meredith in specific and for all women in general. That one woman should have lived through a teenage pregnancy is horrific to me. That this is by no means an isolated incident makes this even worse.

Meredith Hall became pregnant, at the age of 17. This happened after a non-conventional summer romance that ended with one sexual encounter on the beach before Anthony, five years her senior, returned to college. Meredith’s mother, who had been left to raise her three children as a single mother, also found love that summer with a hippy. After spending so many years using negative pressure to keep Meredith a virgin, she began staying out until all hours of the night herself. She, in fact, left Meredith alone at the beach most days while she worked with her new lover. Going from suffocating boundaries to nearly none at all made that summer confusing for Meredith. She ended up paying dearly for it.

Meredith’s family was seen as an upstanding family in their small New Hampshire town. After her father left, Meredith’s mother became extremely involved in her local Protestant church. Once it was discovered that she was pregnant, Meredith was permanently expelled from her school. She was then abandoned immediately by her church and her mother. When Meredith’s father asked what they were going to do about the pregnancy, her mother simply replied, “She can’t stay here.” Meredith went to live with her father and step-mother, but being forced to stay alone in the house (and mainly in her upstairs room) for the remainder of her pregnancy was of no comfort. There was no one for her to cry with. There was no one to explain what was happening to her body. She was not allowed to take an active role in the decision to place her unborn son for adoption – except she was forced to set up a meeting with the baby’s father by herself and get him to sign the adoption papers. I will not even get into the verbal abuse she suffered at the hands of the obstetrician who allowed an abusive family adopt the baby.

I read this portion of the book on the plane from Atlanta to Denver last week. It was enough to make me want to lash out at society. Sex is a shame that is only worn by women, and most especially when they get pregnant outside of socially acceptable settings. There was no shame for Meredith’s father when he left his family with almost nothing to settle down with another woman. Yet, no one could speak to or about Meredith because her unplanned pregnancy was so shameful. I could scream.

So, Meredith was told either directly or indirectly by everyone who was supposed to love her that she was a dirty, shameful person. One sexual act and your life is judged as unworthy of any respect. You are shunned by the rest of society. She was not even allowed to have a roommate at the alternative school she graduated from after the birth of her son. No one wanted her to have the opportunity to even share her experiences with another girl for fear of “infecting” the others. Yes, because this was all working out so well for Meredith, right? Wouldn’t every young woman want to sign herself up for a complete societal shunning? So, alone in her grief and full of shame, Meredith did a lot of wandering after she graduated. The relationships she became involved with were not (in my opinion) good enough for her. They were only good enough for a woman who thought she was tarnished and trash. The reactions to her pregnancy became a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is what happens when people and institutions only use principles to guide their choices and reactions instead of love.

I have the greatest respect for Meredith Hall. She ultimately discovered her own self-worth. She has raised two exceptional sons and has established a warm and familial relationship with her first son. Due to circumstances, she was not able to ever confront her parents about how they abandoned her when she needed them the most. Her mother developed MS. When she needed her children the most, Meredith did not abandon her. Although it was painful for her never to get the opportunity to even tell her mother how the shunning impacted her life, she was an ever faithful daughter. Even though her brother and sister’s families were always invited to her father’s house, Meredith was not allowed because of an argument with her step-mother. Still, she made a point of meeting with her father before he died to tell him that she loved him.

This memoir stirred up many personal things in my heart. I can only hope that I can forgive as Meredith did. She was able to do for her parents the very thing that they and her church failed to teach her by example.

Meredith, thank you for sharing your story.

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To buy this book, click here.

Clear and Present Misogyny

September 20, 2007 at 11:42 pm | Posted in Culture, Historical Fiction, LIfe, Philippa Gregory, Sexual Identity | 3 Comments

Last weekend during her live web-cast, Philippa Gregory was asked on a couple of occasions which historical character she wishes she could have been. She jokingly selected Henry the VIII. In seriousness, she said that she would not want to go into the past to be any historical character before 1920 when women got the vote. More to the point, she would prefer to continue to live after the 1960s when contraception was legalized and made available. Along with many people in the audience, I don’t think that it would be that bad to go back and live as a woman who was born into some status and had strong character. After this week, I feel differently ~ society still hasn’t come far enough.

On the September 14th episode of “Real Time,” Bill Maher made some insulting, degrading, and medically inaccurate remarks about women, the role of their breasts, and their over-appreciation for the role of childbearing and its associated responsibilities. I won’t repeat what he said here. If you’re interested in reading the transcripts or seeing a video of this segment, it’s readily available on-line (it’s been removed from You Tube for violations).

Today is September 20th, six days full days after the episode aired. With the exception of the Internet’s Mommy Bloggers, there has been no other significant reporting about his remarks. Where is the outrage?

In fact now, as I published this post, not even Bill Maher’s wikipedia entry has been updated to reflect this “controversy” yet.

On the other hand, within minutes after Don Imus made his radio faux-pas, we heard of nothing else for weeks. In fact, I stopped watching CBS’ morning show because I couldn’t stand another minute of Julie Chen rehashing it with yet another “expert.” I’m not downplaying what Don Imus said at all. It was a crude comment focused on a group of minority women. Is misogyny only reprehensible under those circumstances? I hate to break it to you, but Maher’s remarks cover just about every single possible minority covered by law. Again, where is the outrage?

I would wager that if Maher had been comparing the fruits of a homosexual relationship to something “dogs can do” that he would have be tarred and feathered 10 times over with more angry crowds headed in his direction. Why aren’t there any angry crowds gathering to support all women and their roles in our society by speaking out against such a public display of misogyny? Why hasn’t HBO suspended him and his show yet? Can it be true that all of the flap about Don Imus had more to do with protecting the dignity of African American males than it did with defending the Rutgers’ women’s basketball team? I’m beginning to wonder.

So, Philippa, I’m beginning to understand what you were saying last weekend. Sure, we can now vote, own property, and use contraception. That’s all fine and good. What I would like, however, is to create and live in a society where men like Bill Maher are not given a pulpit from which to spew their misogynistic viewpoints to the entire world. Unfortunately, it is unrealistic and perhaps counterproductive to attempt to make every single human being fully appreciate all other human beings. There isn’t enough societal pressure in this entire world to keep one subset of humans from thinking and talking poorly about a different subset of humans.

I don’t want my daughters to live in a world where men, like Maher, can say such things to them. Unfortunately, I won’t always be able to protect them without the help of our corporate media. HBO, you, along with your subscribers and advertisers, can prevent those viewpoints from being telecast. Can’t you? Will you?

#38 ~ You’re Not You

September 10, 2007 at 9:21 pm | Posted in Beach, Books, College Life, LIfe, Reading, Secrets and Lies, Sexual Identity | Leave a comment
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You’re Not You by Michelle Wildgen

Okay, so it took a LONG while for me to write this review. The book, while enjoyable at the time, was not that remarkable or rememorable. The main characters (whose names have since escaped me and I’ve sold the book), are a young college woman (CW) having an affair with a professor and a 30ish woman suffering from ALS (SW). CW takes a job with SW and her husband to help SW when the husband cannot be at home. As expected, CW has some trials at first but begins to gain confidence as time goes on. When SW divorces her husband because he cannot remain faithful to her (although her disease is working rapidly), CW truly begins to question her affair with her married professor (MP).

I do not enjoy reading about food or cooking. Unfortunately for me, CW begins to enjoy and prosper as a chef throughout her relationship with SW. I found myself speed reading through descriptions, etc. This isn’t the fault of the author – just a pet peeve of mine.

There is an interesting and embarrassing scene with a vibrator included in this book that I’m not at all sure what to think about. Sure, every woman needs her sexual release. Was it necessary in this story? One could say that SW teaches CW about many things about female sexuality and that this is one of them. Still, I can’t help my lingering feelings of exploitation. I enjoy a good, explicit sex scene. I just was uncomfortable about this. Maybe I’m a prude in some ways.

One thing that I did find refreshing in this book is the discussion of the lack of perfection in the male body – specifically how it relates to a sexual relationship. It’s often that you read about a woman’s insecurity over her naked body. Equally often you read about a man’s enjoyment of a perfect specimen or notice of imperfections. When CW describes her first sexual encounter with MP, she notices and comments upon the stretch marks on his hips. I about dropped my book. It wasn’t mentioned in a negative manner at all. They just were there. I really appreciated that.

Despite my lack of character name recall (and lack of ambition to research and hide this fact), this book would make a beach, vacation, work trip travel read.

#36 ~ A Spot of Bother

August 16, 2007 at 4:30 pm | Posted in Books, British Comedy, Culture, Film, LIfe, My Life with Books, Reading, Sexual Identity | 3 Comments
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A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon

As I was reading this, book I kept wondering to myself why it is that I don’t care for British comedies in film. A British comedy in writing just cracks me up. While I’m sure that I miss many things simply from not being British, a cussing Brit in print makes me smile every time. That happened a lot in this book. Once again, Mark Haddon has written an entirely enjoyable novel that, for me, inspired more than a couple moments of serious and honest introspection.

This novel tells the story of four members of a single family. They are often at odds with each other, but that is mainly because they aren’t sure of who they are or what they want in life. As the family comes together to plan a wedding, all hell breaks loose.

George, the patriarch, is a man who has recently entered his retirement years. While he’s building a studio within which he intends to return to drawing, his life is not tranquil or full of purpose for him. He experiences panic attacks without knowing what they are and fears that he is going insane. Nearly every time he looks at his body he finds cancer. He is settled in his life with Jean, his wife. He does not much care for his daughter’s fiance, but he’s even more disconcerted about his son being a homosexual.

Jean, one of the last generations of women who more often than not made their careers their families, is struggling with her once empty nest once again being populated by her husband. She questions the choices she’d made in her life and is in the middle of a extramarital affair with David, one of George’s ex-colleagues. She is at once happy to be doing something that makes her feel good about herself and terribly guilty over betraying a good, if not boring, husband. She continuously clashes with her daughter while trying to hide her distaste for her future son-in-law. When not arguing with Katie, is wondering how she can accept her son’s lover with open arms while, at the same time, disallow them from sleeping together in her house.

Katie is a single mother to Jacob. Jacob’s father was the love of Katie’s life, but he left her not long into their marriage. In search of stability, she agreed to marry Ray, her live-in boyfriend. Ray, while not as intelligent as she or her family, has a good job, makes great money, loves Jacob as if he was his own, and makes her feel safe and cherished. The trouble is that she’s not sure that she loves him.

Jaime is a successful real estate agent who, while opening gay, has a difficult time with commitment in as much as it requires him to give up control over his life and belongings. He enjoys his relationship with Tony, but he really does not want to bring him to his sister’s wedding. He claims that he doesn’t want Tony to have to deal with his crazy family. The truth is closer to the fact that he does not want to put up with the additional hassle of being an open homosexual with a lover at his side. As much as he is weary of having to justify his life to his family, he believes that his sister is making a grave error and wishes he could pummel some sense into her.

As this family anticipates a wedding that is just as likely to be like an erupting volcano, they are each trying to hide and fix their own problems at the same time. The chaos that engulfs them engulfed me as well. There were aspects of each of their stories that struck a chord with me. Most significantly was reading about George’s panic attacks from his perspective. Don’t get me wrong. Those scenes are written with love, but with humor as well. Still, hearing him say that he couldn’t talk to anyone about what was happening hit me square in the chest. There isn’t anyone you can talk to. When you finally work up the courage to say something, you can see/hear people turn themselves on power saver mode.

I am so happy that I read A Spot of Bother. It’s not often that you find a fun book with a great sense of humor that settles deeper inside of you to be worked out later.

#34 ~ The Lady and the Unicorn

August 16, 2007 at 12:23 pm | Posted in Books, Culture, Historical Fiction, Reading, Religion, Secrets and Lies, Sexual Identity | 3 Comments
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The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier

This book was an incredibly fast read and a wonderful experience. Before finishing this book I thought that this was the best Tracy Chevalier novel I’ve read thus far. The characters are interesting from the very beginning and, unlike some books – not just Chevalier’s, I never really figured out “where all of this” was going until the end. That is really nice.

The Lady and the Unicorn tells the story of a randy artist commissioned to paint a series of portraits that will become tapestries for a “new money” aristocrat in Paris. [to be completed]

10/28/2007

Okay, so I never did complete this review. It was a good book. I think what drew me to it more than any other of Chevalier’s work was the transformation of paintings into tapestries. All of the characters involved were interesting and engaging. I also think that all received the future they deserved as well.

#27 ~ Veronica

June 6, 2007 at 6:11 pm | Posted in Books, Disappointment, Reading, Sexual Identity | 1 Comment
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Veronica by Mary Gaitskill

I am not sure why this book is entitled Veronica. This book isn’t really about her. It’s about how Alison, the narrator, wins and loses at modeling twice while looking down on others for their lack of style and beauty only to end up losing that for herself as the result of a car accident. Veronica is a woman she is embarrassed to be seen with by any of her traditional friends. She does not understand Veronica, a middle-aged woman who contracts AIDS from her bi-sexual partner. Although Alison never admits as much in so many words, she is “trapped” into remaining her friend when Veronica’s illness kicks in when she is at the wrong place at the right time. I believe that the gist of this story is that Veronica’s example of loving her partner despite his faults and having a brave death are examples that Alison can follow when she herself is permanently injured and discovers that she has hepatitis C. That could have all be summed up efficiently within a short story I never would have read. Alas…

Music ranging from classical opera to popular music of the WWII era and the 80’s is a major component to this story. Alison’s father, Alison, and Veronica attempt to use music to document the meaning in their life. Alison’s father is trying to reach his lost big brother. Alison is trying to find herself. Veronica is trying to explain love and her relationship with
Duncan. In actuality, they are using it to hide in a more pleasant past. A past remembered much more fondly that it deserves.

Despite the fact that this reading experience is as close as I’ve ever come with a book to the movie experience I had with The Talented Mr. Ripley (where I left the theater cussing and demanding those two hours of my life back), Gaitskill has a way with language. Her paragraphs are lyrical. I’m not sure if this is actually a compliment or not, but this is the first time the word c*nt has been used in a way that felt appropriate to me.

Unless you enjoy wallowing in the muck of a narcissist’s life while she constantly judges others and rarely takes responsibility for herself or life in general, I do not suggest you read this book. Actually, I urge you to run screaming from Veronica.

Middlesex: Has Oprah Been Reading?

June 6, 2007 at 2:00 pm | Posted in Amazing Narrator, Books, Oprah, Sexual Identity | Leave a comment

Oprah has announced the latest book for her book club, and it happens to be Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides, one that I’ve already read and reviewed.  It is an interesting book and I hope that her book club members enjoy it.

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