Books I read this week: September

Somehow I forgot that I was supposed to be posting every week. So I shall catch up now for the month of September.

Meeting the Dog Girls: Storiesby Gay Terry is a collection of odd, well written stories. All of them have at least one strange element, sometimes it’s magic, sometimes it’s a creature from another world, sometimes it’s a mysterious marble.

If she thinks my spells are ungodly, wait till she gets on a golf course, with its voodoo:nine plus nine and numbered clubs; the fusion of elements: water, air. iron (a curious choice of metal), wood (Did they know the effects of different kinds?). How does she think people get suckered into it so easily, hypnotized into spending days in the hot sun hitting a ball into a hole? That’s profane enchantment for you.

Interpreter of Maladiesby Jhumpa Lahiri was recommended to me by a friend, and I am grateful. It’s a thought provoking set of stories dealing with life in India. Each is a polished gem that stands as its own narrative, and some of them seem to serve as a microcosm of societal interactions in India, especially where class is concerned.  I really enjoyed this one.

In fact, the only thing that appeared three dimensional about Boori Ma was her voice; brittle with sorrows, as tart as curds, and shrill enough to grate meat from a coconut.

Dimension of Miraclesby Robert Sheckley has a lot in common with Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is not a bad thing. A normal, everyday human wins the Galactic Sweepstakes (by purposeful accidental computer error) and finds himself traveling around the universe trying to get back to Earth. It’s absurd and philosophical and enjoyable.

He was somewhat above the average in height and self-deprecation. His posture was bad, but his intentions were good.

I’m going to be totally cliche and say that The Magiciansby Lev Grossman is Harry Potter and the Narnia books for grownups. Quentin, the smartest kid in his high school, applying to Ivy League schools and on his way to his successful life, finds himself crossing through a forest into the grounds of a school for magicians. He takes the entrance exam and is accepted, and the book goes from there. The students are brilliant, the work is hard, the goal is to be a fully functioning practitioner of magic, so that upon graduation you can do anything you want to. Along the way, Quentin discovers that Fillory, a fictional world he loved reading about as a child, might just be real.

The book is adult and angsty and the ins and outs of the school are well thought out and described, as is the process of learning itself. What it isn’t is fun.  The characters are snarky and clever, and there are funny bits, but as one of the characters says, no one at the school but Quentin actually believes in magic. They know it’s real, they use it, but it’s not “magical” to them. And it isn’t to Quentin either- he’s easily bored and always looking for the next thing that will truly make him happy, and never finding it. So the book doesn’t have that magical spark, instead it truly is Harry Potter for adults- magic with all the wonder sucked out.

That’s not to say it’s not a good book, because it really is. The whole “no wonder” thing is part of the point, I think (I hope), and it’s really well written. There are some interesting ideas and it’s a pretty effective look at what would happen “in real life”. I liked the characters, and while I’m not rushing to read the next book, I will read it soon.

Quentin’s mind spun. Maybe he should ask to see a brochure. And no one had said anything about tuition yet. And gift horse and all that notwithstanding, how much did he know about this place? Suppose it really was a school for magic. Was it any good? What if he’d stumbled into some third tier magic college by accident? He had to think practically. He didn’t want to be committing himself to some community college of sorcery when he could have Magic Harvard or whatever.

Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural Worldby Ben Hewitt is really an extraordinary book. It’s the memoir of a family in Vermont who lives on a farm and have chosen to not put their children in school or educate them based on any set curriculum. This approach is generally called “unschooling”, and it’s something I was passingly familiar with, but I feel like I understand it so much better now.

Hewitt and his wife are intelligent people, and their sons are full of curiosity and wonder. They’ve learned how to read, they can do math, but it’s all been learned through practical use on the farm and in the woods. Through their own living and learning they can identify almost any kind of plant, can create their own perfectly balanced bows and arrows, can build shelters that can withstand a Vermont winter.

One of Hewitt’s main goals for his children is that they have an attachment to the land and a connection to it. Most of the kids’ days are spent outside- doing chores and work around the farm, and then roaming free in the woods. It reminds me a lot of Little House on the Prairie or something similar- an older way of life where kids grew up to take over the farm from their parents. And that got to me a bit, because aren’t they limiting their children’s futures? But then I realized that all parents do that to a degree, in choosing what to expose their children to, and what opportunities they give them. My kids likely won’t grow up to be farmers, is that unfair?

I’m still thinking over it all, but that’s the lovely thing about this book. He isn’t prescribing anything for anyone else, just describing what he and his family do. In fact, he specifically says that he knows that their choices aren’t right for everyone. But reading about their choices makes me think about my choices, and opens my eyes to other choices, and that’s a good thing.

“Rye, if you could have any three things in the world, what would they be?

My eight year old younger son did not hesitate for even a moment.

“Traps, a donkey, and a cabin,” he replied emphatically, and at that moment, I felt a small ache. Part of it was happiness, the recognition that a boy can still be drawn to such things in a world that has all but forgotten they exist. But there was sadness, too, because I knew how unusual my son’s three wishes were. “What will the world do with a boy who grows up wanting traps, a donkey and a cabin?” I though.t. And then: “What will a boy who grows up wanting traps, a donkey, and a cabin do with the world?” When I expressed these concerns to Penny, she paused for a moment before replying. “Well,” she said, “it’s probably a lot more realistic than growing up wanting to play third base for the Red Sox.

I started reading The Resurrectionistby Jack O’Connell because I decided to pick a book that had been on my Kindle a while. I started the resolution at the beginning of the year that I was only going to read books that were already on my Kindle, but a lot of the books I’ve read this year have been bought this year. So I decided to go farther back, and picked this one. It’s the story of Sweeney, a man whose wife is dead and whose son is in a coma. He’s taken a job as a pharmacist at an exclusive clinic so that his son can have better care. Every night he reads to his son from a comic called Limbo, and the storyline of the comic is included in chapters of the book. It’s a story of circus freaks, specifically a chicken boy who is searching for his father. As the real life story of father and son goes on, the story in Limbo begins to echo it in strange ways, and both stories twist and turn in unexpected directions. There are some interesting ethical questions that arise, even though the ending got a little tangly, it was a good read.

Now I’m reading Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century. It’s a great, gossipy read.

What are you reading?

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