Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler is a brilliant author, she's a Pulitzer Prize winner after all.  Her stories revolve around families of all shapes and sizes, who live in and around Baltimore, Maryland.  She paints vivid pictures of her characters with calming prose.  A Spool of Blue Thread doesn't disappoint in any of those areas.

Abby and Red Whitshank have raised their children in a stately home built by Red's father, Junior.  The house is a central character to the story, the glue, so to speak that keeps them together.  When the children determine that Red and Abby are getting too old to live alone, the secrets the family harbors try to bubble up from their long buried hiding places. 

For me however, I just plain didn't get it.  The opening scene revolves around Denny, Abby and Red's son who has always been a little strange and aloof.  Denny remains distant throughout the story and the reasons why the book opened with him, were never really resolved.  At least in my mind.  I found this book, though beautifully written, long and drawn out, without any resolution.  None of the characters took the time to change or had any cathartic moments that forced them to.  I know that some of you that have read this book might disagree with that statement because things did happen to this family.  But they all seemed to brush off any events that had some depth and move along as if nothing had changed.

It's the struggle that makes a book worth reading.  I was reading pages from anyone's ordinary life without a rip or a tear that need to be sewn back together.  A Spool of Blue Thread never took the time to mend what truly needed mending.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

A family member, who is also an avid reader, recommended this book to me.  It was time for me to delve in to something historical.  There is nothing like a slice of the past to keep me grounded in the present.  The Boys in the Boat did exactly that.

The boys in the boat are the 1936 rowing team from the University of Washington.  Through a series of ups and downs in the middle of the Great Depression, the tenacious group made their way to the Berlin Olympic Games and won the gold medal.  The story is told through the eyes of Joe Rantz, a poor farm boy who struggled to stay in school and stay on the team.  Joe is part of a cast of characters from George Pocock who painstakingly built the boats, to Al Ulbrickson who coached with his eye on the prize.

This is not a story about rowing, even though I did learn quite a bit about the sport.  It is not a story about the Great Depression which serves as a backdrop and guides many of the men's actions.  This is a story about teamwork, drive and ambition, staring evil in the face and winning.  The author did a wonderful job of showing life in America during this time as being slow and simple. People rallied around each other, sharing what little they might have.  Just when the reader became fully immersed in the American lifestyle, he yanked us into an evil world during the rise of the Nazis.  The contrast was startling. 

Society today could learn more patience from this story. The Boys in the Boat takes us to a world that once was and should never be again.  Well worth reading. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed

I'm not a hiker or a backpacker or even much of an outdoorsy type, but I wanted to read this book because of the empowerment it gives to women.  I wish I had the guts to do what Cheryl did, hike all alone, making her way along a rugged trail with only her instincts to guide her.  Several years ago I took a rafting trip with my sister along the Colorado River.  We hiked out of the Grand Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail, and even though it was the hardest thing I'd ever done, it changed my life.  My trip came with hoards of slimy frogs and so did Cheryl's.  I can relate.

Cheryl's life was troubled at best.  Her childhood was far from normal. The loss of her mother to cancer, and a failed marriage led her to a life of loose sex and drug addiction.  In turn these things set her on a path to search for something different.  That day in the sporting goods store when she came across a book on the Pacific Coast Trail shifted her trajectory.  I believe in fate.

Wild is a fascinating story of survival.  However, I couldn't help feeling something was missing.  One day she's shooting up heroin and the next she's hitching a ride to the trailhead.  The two parts didn't seem to add up to me, like she'd purposely left out a part of the story.  Her mother played a large role in her decision to hike the trail.  She loved her mother very much.  At one point in her journey, Cheryl comes to the realization that she's motherless.  Yes, her mother had died, but she had cared for Cheryl and nurtured her.  We all have different experiences in our lives in which mothers play a large role and again I felt there was a part that was missing. 

Overall, Wild is just that, wild.  I admired Cheryl's courage and tenacity in the face of adversity.  I couldn't shake the feeling however, that there's something important she didn't want to tell me. 

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...