Thursday, December 26, 2013

End of 2013

As 2013 winds down, it's kind of fun to look 'back' on the books of the year.  After a productive summer of reading, it looks like I'll beat the number of 2012, with 72 books read, or listened to, in 2013.  I'm a big believer in my classroom mantra...the more you read, the smarter you get.  I'll read just about anything - murder mysteries, non-fiction WWII novels, historical fiction, drama, even romance - I still think we pick up something about life that otherwise would not have happened.  After a conversation with my daughter about the arts, it all came together.  When asked what she was taking for college courses next quarter, Megan, my art history major / aspiring professor, said "Well, Mom, I really need to take a sociology class because art is about people.  But then, I need to take some bio-psychology as well, probably some history, more classics, English literature, just anything.  My professor said that makes sense, as art is about everything in life - that's why we are all drawn to it."  It made me realize that is the reason I love to teach English literature - every human emotion, every historical moment, every dilemma, victory, and solution in human history is found in the pages of books.  The idea that the arts is a dying world, and that all of our children should be majoring in mathematics or engineering is a fallacy - as long as humanity 'feels', we will need music, painting, sculpture, poetry, dance, and yes, BOOKS.  And with that little soapbox moment, here's a few books I've read lately.

The Imposter Bride by Nancy Richler
I picked this one up cheap at Village Books here in Bellingham, our favorite local bookstore.  I was attracted to the topic, a holocaust era story.  However, it's a very different take on that time period.  The premise involves an immigrant who comes to Canada to marry a brother, post WWII. However, the one brother merely sees her at the train station and gets a sense of doom, ultimately refusing to marry her.  His older brother, however, feels a powerful attraction and chooses to marry her instead.  Wedding guests come, as the bride is a cousin of family members in their Jewish community.  But is the bride who she says she is?  The story then follows the bride's desertion and the daughter's life, as she wonders and questions, and ultimately searches for who her mother really is.  The story is interspersed with a diary from Russia and Poland, creating an intriguing time warp. I wouldn't say this is the best Holocaust book I've read, but it's an interesting take on the genre.

A Higher Call by Adam Makos
If you read Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand, this is your kind of book.  I think I was feeling a 'dad' moment when I chose this one from this month.  My dad, a WWII bomber pilot, was obsessed with planes, flying, WWI aces, you name it.  On a visit to the Boeing Flight Museum years ago, he was able to tell me about every little part of every single plane - it was impressive.  So, in other words, my dad would have loved this book.  It is the story of two pilots, Charlie and Franz, one American and one German, and an amazing incident of nobility and humanity that we rarely see in today's world, that occurred between two 'enemies.'  However, Makos spends much of the book on the background and war-lives of these two pilots.  Makos has literally spent his entire adult, and teen life, chronicling the stories of WWI veterans, with the rule being to never write a story of the 'enemy.'  Upon talking to American pilot Charlie Brown, though, he had to break his own rule, as Charlie would not tell anything further until Makos spoke to his German counterpart.  I admit that at times, the story drags when it gets into small details of the planes, and I seem to like the American story better at times, but the historical details of the air war were utterly fascinating and shocking, even to one who has read quite a few WWI war books.  If you have a family member who is a veteran, or who loves stories of war and flying, you cannot go wrong giving them this book.  Rumors of a movie abound, which I understand - it is a story of honor and heroism that is inspiring.

One Mississippi by  Mark Childress
Another 'cheap' book at Village, this was one of those novels that had a lot of buzz a year or two ago, and I just never got to it, as other 'buzzy' books pushed it off my list.  I'm glad I did.  As my husband said, "it's just a good story." Childress creates a family of the '60's, with a salesman dad who gets transferred every year, dragging his three children and wife with him.  This year's move is to, obviously according to the title, Mississippi.  As schools are desegregated for the first time, we see the ordinary lives of teens, and the great social movement, collide, in both small and big ways.  We see the implosion of a both friendships and marriages, and the pull between doing what's right and doing what's easy.  A few good laughs exist as well, as the southern kids teach the 'northerners' how to pronounce words and we see what one good man can do when a company does him wrong.  Definitely worth a read - good beach book:)

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