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Posts Tagged ‘The Tempest’

They say no man is an island but sometimes you just really want to read a book that takes place on one. All three titles below (plus a bonus review) meet that criteria. So with leaves falling all around and temperatures dropping, curl up and set sail with a good story that transports you to several very different islands in some faraway oceans, both real and some imagined. Have a nice trip, take a bookmark, and don’t forget to catch the ferry home when you’re done reading.

The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman (July 2012). As its title suggests, this story takes place far out to sea on a remote Australian island where Tom, a lighthouse keeper, and his wife Isabelle are stationed. Everything changes one day when a rowboat washes ashore carrying a dead man and a crying baby. Having tried for years to conceive a child, this offering from the sea seems to be the answer to Isabelle’s prayers. Despite Tom’s reservations, she convinces him they should claim the baby as their own. They name her Lucy and the drama is set in motion as the reader learns of the effect that decision will have on many families as well as on future generations.  This is a book about profound love, loss, and how choices shape our lives. Stedman’s writing is excellent, believable, and “unputdownable”. I loved the landscape of this book, from the windswept rock out in the ocean to the western coast of 1920’s Australia where there were fortunes to be made and rugged individuals carving out a country in the post WWI era. I will remember this book and its characters for a long time. Highly recommended. ~Lisa Cadow

The Vanishing Act by Mette Jacobsen (September 2012). This book, too, is set on a tiny, yet unnamed island with only a handful of quirky inhabitants – and it’s story is also shaped by a body washing up on shore. It’s been a year since Minou’s mother disappeared, walking out of the front door of their cottage in her best dress with an umbrella in hand never to be seen again. Minou doesn’t quite believe that she’s dead and spends much of her days reconstructing her memory, considering her beautifully painted murals, remembering her role in the island’s circus, and trying to solve the mystery of where her mother could be. When Minou finds the body of a boy on the beach, she and her father, a fisherman and philosopher, carry it back to their house and carefully watch over it until a boat can arrive to remove it to the mainland. In the meantime, the two tell the boy their secrets, wishes, and thoughts. A novel of love and loss, and healing, Vanishing Act reads has a timeless, dreamlike s quality to it and reads like a fable or an old-fashioned fairy tale. The writing is excellent, the concept unique, and the overall effect truly poetic. Very different. Very good. A GEM.~Lisa Cadow

 Both these books reminded us of perhaps the most famous of all stories about bodies being washed up on shore – Shakespeare’s The TempestIn this play, a storm washes the live bodies of noblemen onto an island populated by Prospero, a sorcerer and Miranda, his daughter. The tempest that brought the newcomers to this island unveils a tempest of betrayal, secrets and love. ~ Lisa Christie

 

Mama Day by Gloria Naylor (1989) – This island post seemed like the perfect time to revisit a book that I read so very long ago and loved. This gem?  Mama Day – the tale of an island off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina that is part of neither, but whose pull is powerful even on those who leave – uses plain but powerful prose to create a memorable and engrossing novel.  Woven around the stories of a young couple – George and Cocoa who meet and love in New York City and Cocoa’s great-aunt Mama Day – Mama Day explores notions of family, community, and love, with a little voodoo sprinkled in.  Over twenty years after publication the book still resonates; as the Washington Post proclaimed in their review years ago – “This is a wonderful novel, full of spirit and sass and wisdom, and completely  realized.”  ~ Lisa Christie

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AIDS & Literature (Plus More Details about Grassroot Soccer and Its Work to Eliminate HIV/AIDS)

Our earlier post, “Africa: Part One,” was inspired by Grassroot Soccer (GRS) and listed important, memorable books set in Africa.  GRS uses the game of soccer to educate, inspire, and mobilize communities to stop the spread of HIV and create an AIDS free generation, focusing most of its work in Africa.

Now, in an attempt to better understand the AIDS epidemic which has so effected that continent, we recommend two books that angle in on this devastating disease.  Please note that in the titles we’ve paired below, AIDS is depicted as an illness afflicting homosexual white men and both are set (or begin) several decades ago in the United States.

The typical HIV/AIDS patient today is very different.  According to the GRS web site (2008 report by UNAIDS):

  • Worldwide, 33 million men, women, and children are infected with HIV.
  • 2.7 million became newly infected in 2007 (roughly 7400 every day)
  • 45% of all new infections occur among 15-24 year-olds.
  • Less than 40% of young people have comprehensive HIV/AIDS knowledge.
  • 67% of people living with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa.

But no matter who HIV/AIDS afflicts and no matter where they live, the disease and its effects on sufferers and their families remains the same. We believe the following selections will help the reader better understand AIDS and the history of the epidemic through though the lens of literature.

In One Person by John Irving (May 2012) – There are books that you read that are just great stories and keep you turning pages because it is important to discover what happens next.  There are books that while you are reading them remind you of places you have been and people you have encountered.  There are books that remind you people can be amazing, and that progress in improving the way humans treat one another is possible.  There are books that inspire you to ponder what you can do to help the world be a better place.  There are books that illustrate the power of literature to make one think.  This book did all of these things for me.

The story of William/Bill Abbot/Dean, a boy growing up in a rural Vermont town housing an all-boys academy, having “crushes on all the wrong people” is a novel at its best.  Narrated by a 70-ish year old Bill, as he reflects upon his life, the plot covers his life from his early teens to present day.  You watch him navigate high school, live as an adult, and learn about the mysteries surrounding his birth.  Warning –the mysteries about and the coincidences surrounding his father are among the weaker plot points in the novel; so please breeze by them in order not to miss the power of this book.

I enjoyed most of the characters populating this novel, even those of a less savory nature.  I smiled at the fact that great literature (i.e., Madame Bovary, The Tempest, works by James Baldwin and the Bronte sisters) is an important aspect of the plot.  And yes, because of Bill’s bi-sexual identity and his multiple partners, and the span the novel encompasses, you know from the first page that AIDS will impact his life as an adult in the 1980s. That knowledge does not ruin the plot and the pages dealing with that epidemic are among the most powerful in this book.  To say much more would give too much away.  Please read it an enjoy. ~ Lisa Christie

And the Band Played On: Politics, people and the AIDS epidemic by Randy Shilts (1987) – When first published, this book dramatically changed and framed how AIDS was discussed.   Shilts’ expose revealed why AIDS was allowed to spread unchecked while most institutions ignored or denied the threat, and he is often harsh in his reporting.  While the data and the portraits of the AIDS epidemic differ tremendously today (e.g, infected women; the epidemic on the African continent), this powerful story of AIDS when it became part of the US conversation about sexually transmitted diseases, remains important.  A 20th anniversary edition (2007) is available, and a movie based upon the book can be viewed on DVD. ~ Lisa Christie

BONUS PICK: For those readers looking for insight into the epidemic today, our friend Rob Adams at Grassroot Soccer also recommends Tinderbox: How the West Sparked the AIDS Epidemic and How the World Can Finally Overcome It by Craig Timberg and Daniel Halperin. This book discusses how Africa became the epicenter of this disease and why the implications for the world are vast. Neither Lisa has yet finished his recommendation, but we are grateful we have started this important book.

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Ahhhhh, Valentine’s Day – a date in February that seems to elicit extreme reactions. You either LOVE it or cringe at the very thought.  Since we would never dream of telling you how to react to this annual event, instead we thought we’d recommend what to read if you’re searching for some romantic prose.

Our twist: a focus on love stories either inspired by or written by the ultimate cupid-with-a-quill, the Bard himself, William Shakespeare.  The publication dates of the books span a period of  more than 400 years – from 1596 to 2011- but all are relevant and fresh and most are full of fun. One, upon reading, you might question how we call it a love story, but we stand by this classification.

So here we go, Shakespeare-inspired love stories for Valentine’s Day.  We hope you like them, whether you’re a fan of Valentine’s Day or not. Here at the Book Jam we like to say, “If books be the music of love, read on”.

1) For those of you who know that the back story for a love affair is often extremely interesting:

Gertrude and Claudius by John Updike (2000). Yes, Hamlet, that tortured prince receives a lot of time in High School and College English Lit classes, but did you ever think about his story from the perspective of his mother and her lover/second husband?  Well luckily for us, John Updike did. The result is a well written novel that forces you to rethink the Bard’s popular tale of a Danish Prince and his doomed lover Ophelia. This is different from most of Mr. Updike’s novels – try it, you might love it. ~ Lisa Christie

 

 

2) For those of you finding love later in life, with all the complications that brings:

Julie and Romeo (2001) by Jeanne Ray  (2001). We both find this a funny, sexy, and endearingly charming book. Each of us read it years ago thinking it would make the perfect mother-in-law or mother’s gift.  Funny thing though, in trying to pick a book for women older than ourselves, we actually found a book that appealed to us and have since given or recommended it to many readers, regardless of  their age.  In this twist on Romeo and Juliet, Julie, a divorced “60 something” woman, meets Romeo a widower and well, they fall in love.  The conflict? Their families have feuded with each other for years and their kids truly truly hate the idea of their parents dating. The humor? What they go through to actually “date”.  Is this something you would discuss in a English Lit Class? Probably not, but read it anyway and enjoy. Great for a quick Sunday read, the beach or a carry-on bag. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

3) For those of you whose love life needs a bit of fantasy and humor and wonderful prose:

Midsummer Nights Dream  by Shakespeare (1596).  One by the Bard himself.  Great language, humorous and ridiculous plot twists as Lysander, Demetrius, Helena and Hermia try to find their true loves.  Throw in a Fairy Queen and King who are feuding and a mischievous fairy named Puck and well, you have all the makings of a truly romantic comedy. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

 

 

4) For those looking for a smart but light modern day romp through grown-up sisterly love, its requisite bickering, and some budding romance – with a lot of Shakespearean references thrown in:

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (2011). While the title refers to the sisters in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, this story is actually about three very modern-day siblings, Rosalind, Bianca and Cordelia (who grew up with a Shakesperean professor for a father, hence their names). The tale begins with them all returning home to Ohio from their rather messy adult lives to help care for their ailing mother. Their uncanny ability to qoute the Bard at every twist and turn makes for fun, smart dialogue but it is their very present day struggles that make this story relevant. There is some romance, as promised in the intoduction to this post. But most of all it is the sisters love for and understanding of each other that makes this book endearing.  ~Lisa Cadow

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