Sunday, March 2, 2014

Winter Reading!

Blood Done Sign My Name by Timothy B. Tyson
In 1970, I was seven years old and the biggest fear in my life was being sent to bed early for not eating my vegetables and missing out on the kick-the-can game outside.  I knew nothing of racial tension, forced bussing, or quite frankly, the civil rights movement.  I lived in Seattle, where the so-called 'minorities' were Asians, and since my best friend was Rodney Yen, who lived a few doors down, it just really didn't matter to me.  This was not the life of Timothy Tyson, the author of this book and an eleven year old in 1970.  As he played outside one day with the other boys, a friend of his ran by screaming "My daddy done shot him a nigger!"  As the book progresses, we see Oxford, Mississippi devolve into a conflagration of racial violence, with tobacco barns burning, marches on the state capital, and bricks through windows.  Tyson, now a professor of African-American studies at the University of Wisconsin (ironic, considering he is white), was more than an observer that summer.  His father was the main pastor at the Methodist church in Oxford, and a leader in the community.  Pastor Tyson was ahead of his time, when he asked a black minister to speak in his church, yet behind what we would now consider necessary, as he slunk out of the funeral march of the murder victim.  Tyson develops this story into more than just a tale of a small southern town;  he creates a complex world where right and wrong are not so easily recognized, and when it is, the people we think would stand up for right, sometimes just take a seat.  The friend that told me of this book said that it should be required reading for all high schoolers, and adults, and I must agree.  It is a powerful story, well-written, and well-researched, that may just change your perspective on race in this country.

Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan
After a few months of 'clunkers' in our book club, we decided to go with a tried-and-true author.  Nancy Horan's first book, Loving Frank, had been a huge best-seller and a shockingly suspenseful story of Frank Lloyd Wright and his scandalous love affair.  Years after reading that book, I still find myself intrigued by Wright's architecture as well as his life story.  I was hopeful that Horan's latest book about Robert Louis Stevenson would be a similar page-turner, and I was not disappointed.  Interestingly enough, for the huge reader I was as a child, I never read Stevenson's famous childhood novels, Kidnapped and Treasure Island.  Of course, Walt Disney on Sunday nights made it so I didn't have to either:)  As an English teacher, I knew R.L. Stevenson was one of the 'biggies' but I really wasn't sure why; luckily, this book explains quite a bit.  Told as a fictional story, with the voices of Louis and Fanny, his American-born wife, we follow their lives from the penniless days of anonymity, through Louis' struggles with tuberculosis and Fanny's mental issues, as well as the trauma of marriage, death, divorce, and poverty.  Horan does a masterful job of showing us the complexity of these two people, as well as the peripheral friends who influence them.  Quite often, Louis and Fanny are unlikeable, sympathetic, courageous, annoying, exasperating, and lovable - all at the same time.  I look forward to the book club discussion as there is quite a bit of 'meat' on this bone/book to chew over!  Next up for book club... Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde by...R.L. Stevenson.

After Her by Joyce Maynard
Another one of my listens, I was obsessed with this book, turning it on whenever I had the chance (the dog got exponentially more walks during these two weeks).  Classified as a mystery in GoodReads, I'm not sure I agree with that genre label; it reads more like a memoir, wrapped up in a murder mystery.  Based on the real-life tale of the trail-side killer in Marin County back in the 1980's, Maynard's story is told through the eyes of Rachel, a typical 13-year-old girl who is shy and awkward, lacking in friends, still waiting for her period, and is broken inside by her parent's failed marriage.  As the homicide detective in Marin County, her good-looking Italian father gets pulled into the limelight of the media, as young women keep turning up dead in the mountainous countryside.  Rachel appears to have a strange connection with the killer, and her younger sister Patty is pulled into the mystery as well.  I have to admit - much of this story hit far too close to him for me.  For anyone who grew up in Seattle in the 1970's, creepy stories of "Ted" abounded, as young women were kidnapped from public places, dead bodies turning up in the Snoqualmie forests.  Eventually, Ted Bundy was caught, but not before he ruined the innocence of the Pacific Northwest; I was never again allowed to walk down to the neighborhood ice cream store or go to Lake Sammammish for a swim date with friends.  This book can be a bit predictable in the end, but the story it paints of an innocent childhood summer lost to violence, and the havoc it wreaks on the lives afterward of those involved, was quite engrossing.

War Brides by Helen Bryan
If you're a historical-fiction junkie like me, you will love this book.  I had seen it around for awhile, but then discovered I could check it out for free on my kindle - 'free' is a good deal, and it did not disappoint.  The story covers the lives of five women - the stereotypical good girl (or in British terms - a 'brick'), the aristocratic wild child, the southern belle,  the Jewish refugee, and the Cockney girl from the East End of London - all during the London blitz and the war years of 1939-1945.  Quite frankly, I figured I knew most of the history already, but I knew more of the war, not of the lives of the people left behind in the countryside as well as the city.  I was in awe of the sacrifices and courage of these people, and engrossed in the lives of these four characters.  Bryan does an admirable job of creating interesting characters and intriguing story lines.  This would be a fabulous book to give a mother or grandmother who lived during these times; I think they would relate to it quite a bit, and be vindicated in their belief that yes, they truly are the 'greatest generation.'

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