Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A River Sutra by Gita Mehta

A River Sutra by Gita Mehta

To feed my appetite for books, I take time each day to answer surveys and click on ads to collect points.  Once I collect enough points, I cash them in for Amazon gift cards.  Free books!  Cool and right up my alley.

With a a $20 gift card burning a hole in my computer, I opened up my Amazon wish list to see if I'd wished for anything interesting.  A River Sutra had been added to the list a couple years ago.  The reviews looked interesting, it's set in an exotic local, and has a spiritual message.  I like to mix up my reading material between styles and genres and this seemed like the perfect fit for the moment. I downloaded it.

The story is about a man who retires from his government job and  takes a post at a guest house deep in the jungle along the Narmada River.  A variety of people cross his path, all offering different bits of spiritual advice.  Although the stories and characters were interesting, I never felt a connection between them.  He would begin a conversation with a monk, or a woman or a musician and then they would say, "Let me tell you a story." 

The stories had different messages for the retired man looking to escape from life.  For me at least, I got to the point I didn't want to hear any more stories.  I wanted to know the main character's story.  It was never told to the extent I wanted to find some satisfaction.  The book is beautifully descriptive of the people and places.  I didn't feel the stories came together as a cohesive unit.  I know I often like things to be tied up in neat little packages and life doesn't resolve itself so easily.  I didn't need a pretty bow, I only wanted to see how he processed in his own mind, the lessons told by others.

A River Sutra is wonderfully written and has much to teach.  I wasn't in the right mindset to learn from it even though I thought I was ready.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

For A Limited Time

In Florida we don't have changing colored leaves in autumn.  In fact we don't really know when fall arrives.  A date on the calendar doesn't help much because it can be 90 degrees outside in the middle of September during the Autumnal Solstice.  That's the time I start craving candy corn.  But when the temperature moves downward, indicating the shift to winter, my appetite adjusts.

It all started with a pumpkin bagel from Panera.  Tired of my usual morning pancakes, Richard brought home a pumpkin bagel dusted with powdered sugar.  Slightly toasted in the toaster with a spread of butter.  Yum.  He immediately called Panera and ordered 2 dozen more for pickup the next morning.

Keep in mind that I still haven't lost the five pounds I gained last Christmas, so I try to be mindful of what I eat even though I've been unsuccessful at losing any weight for almost a year.  One morning while Richard was still sleeping, I got up and took a pumpkin bagel out of the freezer, popped it in the toaster and enjoyed.  Richard still slept and the bagel so delicious, I got another one, fixed it to my liking and relished every single bite.  God, it was delicious!  

When Richard finally got up, he said, " I have to admit something."

"What?" I asked.

"When I got up this morning I ate a pumpkin bagel.  It was so good and you were still asleep so I ate a second one.  Then I went back to bed."

I started to laugh, "I did the same thing."

Every since then I want to eat anything pumpkin. My pumpkin craving won't subside so I sneaked out of the house for pumpkin frozen yogurt at Redberry praying they haven't swapped out my favorite flavor.  Mix in the broken waffle cones and some chocolate sprinkles. Mmmm.  

Every week Richard checks the grocery store circular for sales.  The grocery store featured pumpkin pie. After much discussion in the middle of the bakery,  Richard and I  decided we didn't need the extra calories.  I walked past the freezer case and saw limited edition pumpkin ice cream.  Richard and I lingered in front of the freezer much longer than we did over the pie.  But again we decided it wasn't a good idea for our health. I think about that ice cream all the time. I wonder how long it will stay on the shelf.  What does limited edition really mean? It's only a matter of time before I give in. I can feel it in my bones.

I did however, make my way to the dairy case for the pumpkin spice coffee creamer.  Usually I buy the peppermint but now it's available year round, it's lost some of its appeal.

We're almost out of pumpkin bagels.    If we eat them all, then there'll be room to stock up on pie and ice cream and coffee creamer and anything else pumpkin that turns up for a limited time. So much for losing those pesky five pounds before Christmas. I think they're here to stay.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Shelter by Harlan Coben

Shelter by Harlan Coben

I've never read Harlan Coben.  I'm not much of a mystery, thriller reader but he is a staple in writing seminars because of his engaging storytelling and brilliant use of words.

The other day Richard wanted to go to the bookstore and I am always in on that field trip.  He sat down to read a magazine and I grabbed Shelter off the table and sat down with him.  The very first sentence had me hooked.  And I mean hooked.  Got me! Reel me in!

I couldn't leave the store without the book.  Richard must have seen the glow of excitement in my eyes.  He took a ten dollar bill out of his wallet.  That never happens especially in a bookstore since he knows how many books already line our shelves at home. Once I got it home, I couldn't put it down.

Mickey Bolitar has lost his father in a car accident, his mother is in rehab and his girlfriend is missing.  He's still trying to fit in at his new high school.  Living in the basement at Uncle Myron's house, the house his father grew up in, spurs him to look for answers to his life.

Mickey is a cool kid.  I couldn't help but love him.  He's teased and bullied for making friends with Ema, a sharp witted girl who's overweight on on the outs with the popular crowd.  And then there's Spoon.   Spoon dishes out all kinds of useless trivia.  He's not part of the in crowd either.  Together the trio sets out to find Ashley, Mickey's girlfriend.  The team, I have to admit is quite resourceful. 

Their search leads them to the Bat Lady, who according to local legend, terrorizes children from her dilapidated house on the corner.  The trail takes them to a sleazy strip joint in the inner city where all hell breaks loose.  But in the end, the road reveals to Mickey a very dark secret about his past and how it will shape his future. 

I loved Shelter. Did some parts seem a little hokey to me? Yes. But Mickey, Ema and Spoon were such a delightful trio of characters, I didn't mind.  There's a sequel coming.  I'll be ready and I hope the cover also sports an intriguing pair of emerald green eyes that follow me wherever I go.  Those eyes are why I didn't have a chance of leaving Shelter behind.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Blue Angel by Francine Prose

Blue Angel by Francine Prose

Every now and then I get an email from my sister, Martha, and she tells me to read some obscure title I never would have uncovered on my own.  Usually they are not current bestsellers and are not easily accessible in my local bookstore and I wonder how she's found them.  I've learned through the years though I can't always trust my sister to have the same taste in novels as me.  If I've never heard of it, I say thank goodness for Amazon and check to see if it has decent reviews. If it does, I'm in.  Blue Angel was subject to my vetting process and made it to my reading list.  

Swenson is a professor of creative writing at a small private college in Vermont.  His own attempts at writing his second novel have fallen on hard times. Into his class walks Angela, a student with writing talent.  Swenson becomes obsessed with her and her work after the other students present him story after pathetic story of sex with animals. The political workings of the college administration coupled with an unstable, tattooed, body pierced coed drag Swenson down a path of destruction.

Francine Prose did a masterful job of writing.  As a reader I was inside Swenson's head from the start.  I love when a writer is that good. I admire a writer who is that good.  I feel like I'm walking every step in his shoes.  The professor-like clothing he wore, the food his charming wife, Sherrie, fed him for dinner, the house he lived in, made him a living breathing guy going through some kind of twisted midlife crisis.  I understood his pain, his desires, his frustrations and those of the people around him. I may as well have been in Vermont on his college campus watching his life implode. I could see, feel and hear it that clearly.

Blue Angel is a fabulous novel. I want to read more by Francine Prose.  I'm still going to check out my sister's book reading suggestions but I hope she'll suggest some more gems like Blue Angel.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

I Voted Today

I voted today. Safe and snug in my own home I cast my ballot.  You may ask why I voted by absentee ballot when I wasn't away from home. 

I'm from Florida and during the 2000 election between Bush and Gore, I lived and voted in Palm Beach County, the center of the chaos.  Hanging chads.  I'm sure I left a few in my day.  Butterfly ballots.  I still have the sample ballot that was mailed to voters that year by the Supervisor of Election.  The picture of that judge's eyeball examining a punch card ballot is ingrained in my brain.

Ever since I've gotten an absentee ballot.  I like it that way.  I don't feel rushed into deciphering all the legalese in the amendments.  Why can't it be written in plain English?  It takes me awhile to figure out if yes means yes or yes means no. I like to think I'm a fairly informed voter but when I read the ballot I think that I'm not.  The words are confusing.

The most interesting thing that I wasn't aware of, was there are plenty more people running for President other than Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. One set of names got me thinking.

Did you know that Roseanne Barr is running for President?  She lost the nomination of the Green Tea Party and moved over to the Peace and Freedom Party.  Her platform is to end the money system as we know it and convert to barter.  We'll grow vegetables in our backyard and trade them for whatever we need like electricity or wine or a night out at the movies.  She wants to legalize marijuana and annex Mexico to stop people from coming here illegally. They'll be one of us already. Plus Mexico's got oil.  And she's against marriage of any kind. Interesting.
Her running mate is Cindy Sheehan, the well known anti war activist who camped out at President Bush's Texas ranch.  I understand her personal pain but was that really an effective way to facilitate change?  

Now that I've had a chance to study other presidential platforms, Romney and Obama don't look so bad.  But who to choose?  I still don't know but I thank God for being an American.  And for hanging chads so I can decide in the comfort of my own home. Maybe I'll light up a joint while I color in the little black circles and hope that on November 7th, I'll be able to do that legally.  Just kidding!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Today's a Busy Day

Today is a very busy day.

Noon  Baseball!  Detroit and Oakland.  My grandparents used to listen to the Tiger games on the radio. Baseball is so much better on television.

3 pm Baseball!  Washington and St Louis.  The Nationals have spring training right here in my back yard.  If they go all the way this year, I want to be first in line for season tickets.  I'll walk to the stadium and watch them play.

5:30 pm  Pick up the $8 large pizza Sunday special for dinner and stop at Publix for buy one get one free ice cream on sale.

6 pm  Baseball!  Yankees and the Orioles.  I'm not a Yankees fan but it's always fun to watch A Rod and Cheater Jeter.  I am, however, a Tampa Bay Rays fan. In a game against the Rays, Jeter claimed hit by a pitch when the ball hit the end of the bat, not his hands.  He also hit his 3000th run against the Rays.  I'm disappointed the Rays didn't make it to the playoffs but they wouldn't be the team they are without competition from the Yankees.

7 pm   Sink into the sofa after a satisfying junk food dinner.

8:30 pm   SpaceX, the private space firm is launching a rocket to take supplies to the International Space Station.  A rocket launch at night is not to be missed.  Plus the noise will be so loud I won't be able to hear the television anyway.

Uh oh!  Looks like I'm double booked.

9 pm   Baseball! Reds and Giants.

9 pm   Boardwalk Empire.  I am a huge Nucky fan.  And at this point, Atlantic City gangsters may be a welcome diversion.  There'll be more baseball tomorrow night and I can watch HBO on demand if the games goes to extra innings.

10 pm  Fall into bed, exhausted. Even when the Rays play on the west coast, I can't stay up past ten to watch.  If I did, I'd be useless tomorrow when there's even more baseball.

I love baseball and post season baseball is exciting to say the least. A pitcher with a $100 million contract couldn't help his team get back on a winning track. Fans threw bottles on the field hitting players in the outfield when they didn't like the umpire's call. I've also never seen the infield fly ball rule enforced, which the critics say was called in the outfield. Missed plays and stolen bases kept me on the edge of my seat. That was only the wild card games.

And if anyone thinks baseball doesn't have a heart, they didn't see a relief pitcher strike out a batter, playing in a game only a few days after the death of his infant son.

People often say watching baseball is like watching paint dry.  Well, they haven't watched baseball lately.  I guess they're too busy watching paint dry.  Baseball is keeping me busy today and I can't wait.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

I am not a fan of novels that deal with 9/11.  Fictionalizing this day irritates me.  Too many people suffered and we should never make light of that. In any way.  My sister thought I would like this book anyway.  She was right.

We will all remember were we were on that day.  And my own personal story, which pales next to others will always remain part of my psyche.  I was away from home, on what was supposed to be a three day business trip.  It turned into ten days away from my husband, my family, my friends.  All of whom were suffering too in their own way and I couldn't console or find comfort in their presence.

Oskar Schell is a child with many autistic, compulsive traits.  His mind is constantly racing.  His father, his best friend is lost on 9/11 and Oskar bears a heavy burden.  My heart broke for Oskar and his mother and grandmother.  The lose of his father sets him on a wonderful journey, facing his fears and coming to terms with his loss.  It is that part of the story that had me counting my own blessings.

This novel is a work of art. The speech patterns of the characters were rich and descriptive, letting us know so much about their traits and emotions.  The photographs inserted in just the right spot to invested me even further in the story.  A child shouldn't have to face such a devastating loss on this terrible day.   I cheered for Oskar every step of the way.  I wanted to hug him even though I knew his compulsive quirks would never allow it.

There are parts of this book that are difficult to read not because of the writing but because of the way the author chose to tell the story through photos and newspaper clippings.  If that gets in your way, then watch the movie.  It is the same heartwarming story told on the big screen.  I loved the movie even more. 

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a story about life.  Life is full of love and loss.  Life is unpredictable.  And no matter how hard we might try, we all make mistakes.   But it is never too late to make amends.

City of Thieves by David Benioff

City of Thieves by David Benioff It's World War II in Leningrad, Russia.  17 year old Lev elected to stay behind in the city when h...