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Archive for October, 2011

A newly published collection of poems by beloved  author Shel Silverstein and an article about the works of current US Poet Laureate Philip Levine caused me to pause in my reading of prose and think a bit about poetry.

First, Mr. Levine.  I’d read that Mr. Levine’s work is heavily influenced by Michigan and its auto industry, and was therefore curious to know more about his views of my mother’s home state and of the industry that employed many of my maternal relatives. Thus, I picked up a copy of News of the World  (2009) and perused it this past month.  Due to a rather busy October, I didn’t absorb it all in one setting, but instead enjoyed it periodically over a span of several days.  Sometimes I would start in the middle of the collection. Other times I revisited a poem from a few days before.  And, for some reason, I read section three straight through.  What struck me most were the well-chosen phrases, the pictures of his time spent in Spain and with native Spanish speakers, his scenes from Brooklyn and the honest portraits of lives lived on the assembly lines and in the bars of Detroit, Pontiac and other Midwestern towns. I know the PR prepped me to view his poems as gritty, real and accessible, but I found that they truly are.

 

I then picked up Shel Silverstein’s last volume thinking it would be more of what I remembered from my childhood and what I knew from reading his poetry outloud to my boys.  I was wrong. Perhaps because Everything On It was published posthumously, I was struck by how many poems in this volume deal with death or looking back on a life.  There are still the silly poems such as “Romance” about how an elephant and pelican marry merely because their names are difficult to rhyme, but many seemed tinged with sadness.  Neither of my sons however noticed this melancholy tone when I shared this volume with them. They merely laughed as usual at Mr. Silverstein’s imaginative verse.  As such, I recommend this for adults taking stock of their lives, but also for kids needing a laugh or two.

 

And finally, I re-read parts of Julia Alvarez’s (the writer in residence at Vermon’t Middlebury College)  The Woman I Kept to Myself – the first book of poems that showed me the pleasure poetry can bring.  For many years this volume was my favorite gift to give women turning 40.  This time, it was just a delightful read for me.

High School, English assignments left me with the impression that poetry is supposed to provide insight and clarity. So what enlightenment did these three volumes bring? Hmmm.  Ok, one thought:  with reading, we ideally see what we need to learn, or at least what we are ready to see at that time in our life, or at a most basic level what we want to see due to our own biases. Maybe the joy of poetry is that these lessons are reflected more intensely.

On a practical level what did thinking about poetry bring me?  Three volumes of poems with very different focuses, styles and themes, but all worth reading.

Enjoy and happy reading! -Lisa Christie

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Sometimes the view of the wider world from Vermont can be obscured by our colorful maples, majestic green mountains and by the many freedoms we enjoy living here. It can be easy to forget – or seem impossible – that there are countries where clean, running water isn’t the norm, where many girls don’t get the chance to attend school and where most men have more than one wife.

As I write, my three children are all in class, the washing machine is on its second load of the day and I am my husband’s only wife. Books like “Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away” and “The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives” serve to open up the view to the rest of our world, in this case Nigeria, and support readers in understanding more deeply the conflicts, culture and issues others are experiencing. These two books are excellent and engrossing, balanced with humor and delightful characters so they are as enjoyable as they are educational. And, both explore the effects of and fallout from men having multiple wives, but they have their own unique plots and provide great discussions points (even if only in your own head) when read together.

Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away (2011) is a novel set smack dab in the oil-polluted, violent back waters of the Niger River Delta. It examines the complex political and economic problems of  this petroleum rich country from the perspective of a twelve-year-old girl named Blessing. The majority of the story takes place in her family compound with no electricity or running water but  there are occasional glimpses into the preposterously air-conditioned, manicured, guarded  compound nearby that houses foreign oil workers.  I became enthralled by the 12-year old narrator’s voice, full of questions about the often perplexing behaviors of those around her: her beloved brother Ezekiel who’s fallen in with a dangerous crowd while trying to navigate the path to adulthood; her mid-wife grandmother a fountain of  Nigerian fables and wisdom but also of cultural contradictions; her own mother who is always working, desperate to escape her impoverished surroundings and to educate her children; her Christian-turned-Muslim grandfather who decides it’s time to take a much younger second wife; and this silly, yet endearing, second wife herself, Celestine. This is a special coming of age story.

Then there’s The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives (2010) by Lola Shoneyin. This novel takes a humorous but disturbing look at the practice of polygamy in Nigeria. Though I found “Tiny Sunbirds” to be more poetically written, “Secret Lives” takes a darker look at what can happen when a man has many wives –four in the case of Baba Segi. The real conflict arises when Baba Segi decides to take as a fourth wife a young woman with a college degree. This throws the household into a state of alarm and confusion, threatening the three other uneducated wives. The reader gets a look into the world of Baba Segi and each of his wives, learning their secrets, fears,  dreams and often sordid plans.

Happy, insightful, educational reading. Enjoy the view.  -Lisa Cadow


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Yes, another summer has passed and I read quite a few  books.  Challenged by the BookJam’s other Lisa to reflect upon my summer reading (would you guess she is married to a teacher?), I realized that I spent the summer with my sons, Harry PotterPercy Jackson  and random Super Heroes.

I’d love to be able to impress and report that with my non-kid reading time I dedicated my energies to the classics or to edgy modern literature, but alas I did not. Instead, I kept picking up mysteries. I blame this on the fact that I found two series that once started, I was driven to finish in one fell swoop.  And well, that basically filled the summer. But boy did that entail a lot of armchair travel! These two series took me to the ever entertaining French countryside and San Francisco.

The first of these series belongs to the author Martin Walker.  I read the initial book in this set  – Bruno, Chief of Police: a novel of the French countryside - years ago and enjoyed it, but I can’t say I loved it.

That opinion changed when someone put his second novel, The Dark Vineyard: a novel of the French Countryside, in my hands.  In this book, Mr. Walker hits his stride both with both his story telling capabilities and in developing the character of Bruno. I devoured it and then plunged right into reading his third and latest installment – Black Diamond: a mystery of the French Countryside.  In addition to spending part of his year in the south of France, Mr. Walker is the Senior Director of the Global Business Policy Council and as such appears both knowledgeable about the region and well, literate.

The second series of mysteries that kept me occupied – and traveling – was the “Dismas Hardy series” by John Lescroart.  As someone who was lucky enough to live in San Francisco in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I’ll try just about any book that takes place in that city by the bay.

I found this series because my husband reads thrillers.  He gave me one in an airport years ago; I read it and promptly forgot about it. This summer, though, he loaded a few onto my iPad and I was hooked.  As with Mr. Walker’s series, I read the first, then another and a third and kept plowing right on through the entire set.

And, while I often turn my nose down at the thought of a thriller, these thrillers are my new mind candy.  Why?  They allow me to live again in my old hometown, if only for the duration of the novel.  They have two interesting main characters – Dismas Hardy and his best friend, homicide detective Abe Glinsky, each supported by intelligent families.  And as a bonus, and possibly most importantly to me, each plot places you firmly in San Francisco and provides an enjoyable page turner.

My summary – Mr. Lescroart’s novels are great books for anyone missing San Francisco and/or wanting some escapist reading. Nothing But the Truth begins the series, but you can start just about anywhere.

For additional mysteries that transport you to interesting places, I recommend Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache novels set in the modern-day Quebec countryside, Jacqueline Winspear‘s Maisie Dobb’s series set in Post WWI London, Sarah Stewart Taylor’s Sweeney St. George series set in Boston/New England, and Archer Mayor’s Joe Gunther series set in our home state of Vermont.  Luckily, three of the four series have a 2011 installment for you to enjoy.

Happy reading and happy traveling! Lisa Christie

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