Monday, November 7, 2016

Day 7: Your book report is due next Friday

Recently a Facebook friend posted a scheme for getting people to send a favorite book to someone and then receive a bunch of books in return. It's kind of like a chain letter, only you don't have to send 15 recipes for your grandmother's sour cream raisin pie to a bunch of a friend's friends and hope to get back 150 recipes for yourself. For the book thing, I just had to send a copy of my favorite book to a friend of my Facebook friend. Then I had to post on Facebook asking people to do the same thing, give them my friend's name and address to send books to, and tell them to post on Facbook and give their friends my name. It sounds more convoluted than it is. I almost said no, but then I thought, What the fuck? I could get some good books. And all I have to do is send one out. Even if I don't get any, that's a fun thing to do. And so I did it. I posted on Facebook and drew my own group of suckers  participants in.

Unfortunately one of my Facebook friends started a row about it being a pyramid scheme, so not as many people signed up as I'd hoped. And of those, a couple declined to do it, although they did go ahead and send books to my friend, and one of them even sent a book to me! And it's The Glass Castle, a book I love, so bonus. I've already broken even. I don't think I'll get a ton of books, but I'm OK however it turns out.

Thinking about favorite books made me think about sharing some of mine here, and this seemed like a good time to do it. Before we know it the election results will be in and all our Facebook feeds and Twitters and blogs and podcasts will calm down, and we won't know what to do with ourselves. I'm not suggesting that the hard work of making our country even better will ever be done, but maybe later this week will be a good time to dial back the deadening effect of Netflix and the social media noise (except for this blog, of course), make a cup of hot tea and pour a glass of wine (we'll need both, trust me), tear open a big bar of good dark chocolate, pop some popcorn with lots of butter, and cuddle up under a soft blanket on the couch with a good, thought-provoking novel. What better way to greet the darkening days of winter?

To help you along, I choose the last three 5-star books from my read (that's past tense) shelf on Goodreads. I was surprised how relevant all three novels are to the turmoil we are facing in this country. I don't go for political novels as a rule, so these aren't that tired topic. They are simply literature, stories created by three of the finest authors of our day.

I would love for you to read them, but I would also love to hear what you think of them. So book reports are due whenever you like, but please let me know if you read one or all of them.

1. Sue Monk Kidd's historical novel The Invention of Wings tells the story of abolitionist and early suffragette Sarah Grimke and her slave, Hetty (Handful) Grimke, who was given to Sarah on her 11th birthday to be her handmaid. Told in alternating viewpoints, it's an unflinching, brutal portrayal of slavery in pre-Civil War North Carolina and of the courageous men and women who stood up to it. Although I had trouble putting it down, it's a difficult book to read. And it's disheartening to realize how firmly entrenched the racism and the sexism of those days are still today. Even though the events in the story happened 200 years ago, the battle for equality for people of all race and sexes is still relevant now.

If you read and loved Sue Monk Kidd's other best-seller, The Secret Life of Bees, you're probably already a fan. The Invention of Wings will not disappoint.

2. You may already have read American Gods by Neil Gaiman, but you could always read it again. In it, Gaiman tells the story of Shadow, who gets out of prison only to find himself in the employment of an old god named Wednesday, who is engaged in a conflict with the newer gods .... You know what? You have to read it. It's a road-trip novel, and Gaiman actually traveled the same roads all over the country while he was writing it, so the authenticity is spot on. And it's a modern fable that pulls together myths from many cultures and puts them in a modern context where they have to exist together. It's another book that's hard to put down. Classic Gaiman.

At the heart of the American Gods is the journey and the ultimate battle, but in between is the idea of these gods -- these many many gods -- struggling to stay alive and relevant after they've been created by humans in their own image. This book too is not a light read, but it's a brilliant and fresh mix of the many gods of both our precious and forgotten myths. It's 15 years old, but it reads like a classic. More high schools should assign this book in place of .... oh, let's say The Great Gatsby. It truly is a classic in its time.

3. Finally, I want to recommend Pulitzer Prize finalist Louise Erdrich's book LaRose. If you haven't read any of Erdrich's other books, why the hell not? She's a member of an Ojibwe (Chippewa) tribe on her mother's side, and she's the most famous, award-winning Native American novelists of our time. Probably ever. I became a fan when I was assigned her Pulitzer Prize finalist novel A Plague of Doves in grad school, and I've read all of her books since.

I can't say, because I've never lived on a reservation, whether her books actually are authentic, but to this outsider to the culture, they sure read as authentic. LaRose starts with a man accidentally killing his best friend's 5-year-old son, who is also his wife's nephew. Yeah, that hits a little close to home. In the tradition of their people, the man and his wife give the bereaved parents their own son of the same age, LaRose, to replace the dead child. Let that sink in.

Erdrich mingles stories from the lives of earlier family members named LaRose, as well as those of other characters whose lives are intertwined as they can only be in a small town. From the frontier to the reservation schools to modern-day reservation life, Erdrich weaves their various stories seamlessly before she leads us to an ending almost as shocking as the shooting at the beginning.

With the conflict at Standing Rock reservation still unresolved as I write this, Erdrich's stories bring us an authentic, tense glimpse into Native American culture that hits on the very core of the battles these people fight yet today. Read this book or any of her other books, and I guarantee you'll want to read the rest.

That's it. Three great books you need to read instead of compulsively scrolling through Facebook raising your blood pressure. None of them are fluffy, humorous reads. But through these stories and these fictional characters (except Sarah Grimke, who was real), we can come to a better understanding of another time, another culture, another point of view. That's what a good writer does for us, and these are some of the best writers out there.

And now that I've told you my last 3 favorite books, what are some of yours? What have you read lately that made you see the world in a different way? Which book would you send if you had to send a stranger your favorite book?

Tomorrow is a big day. Make sure you VOTE!


  1. Adding these three to my list. I have to cop to going the ultra fluff route lately because I'm just too exhausted by drama (though one of the books I'm working my way through right now is "Little Bee"). Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse books are an enjoyable, dishy read.

    1. I'll look for those books too. I tend to read a lot of literature, and I need to sometimes just enjoy something light.

  2. The most recent book I loved was Rooms by Lauren Oliver.

    1. I have that on the table by my bed. I saw the movie, so I want to read the book, but I know it will be difficult. I'm going to do it though. Right now I've got Lee Martin's latest titled Late One Night. He's one of my favorite writers. I wish I could have gone to Antioch Writers Workshop and seen him this past summer. Just not in the budget.