Caught in the Revolution by Helen Rappaport (‘Let’s stop talking and act.’)

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I have long been enamored of Russia, taking so many Russian literature classes in college I practically earned a minor degree in the subject. It doesn’t matter how much I have read of their woe and heartache, my fascination still holds thirty years later. And it has only been reinforced by this most excellent book by Helen Rappaport. With a perfect blend of prose and quotations, she gives us an account of the Russian Revolution which happened one hundred years ago this month. Here are some excerpts from Caught in The Revolution describing the initial events:

Thursday, February 9, 1917:

“The Cossacks are again patrolling the city on account of threatened strikes-for the women are beginning to rebel at standing in bread lines from 5:00 a.m. for shops that open at 10:00 a.m., and that in weather twenty-five degrees below zero.” J. Butler Wright

Saturday, February 25, 1917:

“Violent protest was certainly the intention of the workers over in the factory districts that morning, as they gathered for a huge march on the city. This time they had ensured that they wore plenty of padding under their thick coats to ward off blows…The impromptu bread protests of two days ago had now expanded into a political movement, colored by more and more acts of violence and looting.” p. 62-63

Monday, February 27, 1917:

“Events had, in fact, taken a decisive turn in the early hours of 27 February when the army, as many had predicted, began mutinying…In those first few hours most of the rebellious soldiers appeared disoriented and numbed by the momentous decision they had made, and for some time they had no sense of where to go and what to do, other than incite other regiments to join them.” p. 85-86

But, once the prisons were opened, the workmen were armed, and the soldiers were without officers, things were no where near to being solved.

Helen Rappaport writes an absolutely compelling account of the Russian Revolution, so mesmerizing it practically reads like a novel. The pages fly by as I find myself absorbed in the first hand accounts and meticulous research which she has conducted.

Caught in the Revolution not only tells about the troubled history of Russia, it speaks pointedly of a nation’s unrest with a leader whom they see as non-conciliatory.  I’ve read about them in the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and I fear for our own country in its present state of discord and bitter unhappiness. It is not too far a stretch to draw parallels between the angry citizens of Russia and present day America although we are one hundred years apart.

The publication of this book couldn’t be more timely.

The Arrangement by Ashley Warlick

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What a wondrously imagined recreation of the lives of MFK Fisher, her husband, Al, and his best friend, Dilwyn Parrish. I feel as though I have traveled from Laurel Canyon, California to Dijon, France, and then on to Vevey, Switzerland with them, eating the sumptuous food and experiencing the angst that they endured from their impossible arrangement.

Ashley Warlick does not cast aspersions; her writing is completely objective in its telling of this love triangle.

There were a thousand ways to think about it: they would live like a family, like monks, like roommates, like freaks. He (Dilwyn) loved them both, and this was the only way to do it. He shuffled on the cobblestones; he was drunk. He doubted he could stay drunk forever, but in his slurriness he could see a dumb kind of chance for this to all work out. The three of them would make art, maybe great art. p. 216

For Dilwyn Parrish is an author and illustrator, Al Fisher is a writer, and his wife Mary Frances would become the famous author MLK Fisher.

Dilwyn, nicknamed Tim, and his young wife Gigi were friends with the Fishers in California. When Mary Frances slid herself into Tim’s bed one night, their relationship was irrevocably changed, even if Al didn’t quite know it yet.

Gigi went on to follow her lover, while Tim and Mary Frances formed an ever closer, and passionate bond. Their story reminds me of Hemingway, who laid first with one lover than another, trying to have it all without acknowledging that sacrifice is part of what polishes relationships into jewels. And now I’ve just done what Warlick did not, put my own opinion on an arrangement that could never work. For me, or these friends and lovers.

What does MFK Fisher write? When asked by a publishing house this was her perhaps fictitious answer: “Hunger,” she said. “I write about hunger for all kinds of things.”

In The Arrangement, Ashley Warlick depicted this hunger perfectly.

If A Picture Paints a Thousand Words, This One Fits With Testing Today

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We used to pass out #2 pencils and Scantron sheets.

Now we give laptops, log in codes and headphones. To 8 year olds.

Of course the headphones have not been put back into their proper Baggies. Of course three of them are tangled almost irretrievably. (See the photo of my lap, left.)

I miss Crayolas and paper and newly sharpened pencils. I thoroughly enjoy teaching cursive, and holding read aloud time after lunch, or Social Studies discussions about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Chinese New Year.

But this morning one of my special education kids, practically the brightest student in my class, typed something different from his password. Instead of BKM4BP, he typed, “Die, computer, die.”

It was the perfect bit of comedic relief I needed. I burst out laughing when I read it, and he looked at me in surprise.

“That is exactly how I’m feeling right now,” I said, and he laughed, too.

And then he went on to produce the third highest score in the class.

the book that matters most by Ann Hood (which certainly reads better than The Little Paris Bookshop)

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Here we have another book from another book discussion group I’m in, but the book that matters most is far superior to The Little Paris Bookshop. While both of them speak to the love of literature, and Paris, the novel by Ann Hood lacks the gagging treacle effect that Nina George is so adept at creating. There are no platitudes here, just an interesting story which is well written.

The premise is that each member of Cate’s book club must choose a book that mattered most to them; each month one of the books from their list will be discussed. The titles listed brought back marvelous memories for me, from Anna Karenina (my personal favorite) to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I loved remembering each one and longed to reread it as one does with favorite books.

But, there is a secondary story here involving Ava and her daughter Maggie, who is supposed to be studying abroad. Instead, Maggie is in Paris involved with drugs, and all the wrong kinds of choices that accompany them. Ava has troubles of her own, as her husband of 20 years has just left her. To top it off, she is still struggling to cope with the death of her sister, and then subsequently her mother, when Ava was still a child.

Rather than sounding trite, or artificially crafted for the sake of telling a story, the novel’s issues seemed pertinent and real. I was fully engrossed in this book, connecting to the members of the book club as well as Ava’s trials with a less than cautious child.

Plus, my yearning to reread Anna Karenina grows with every passing day.

The books listed within:

  • Pride and Prejudice
  • Like Water for Chocolate
  • The Great Gatsby
  • Anna Karenina
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude
  • To Kill A Mockingbird
  • The Lord of The Rings
  • The Golden Notebook
  • Dinner at The Homesick Restaurant
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being
  • Thr Leopard
  • Dr. Zhivago
  • The House of Mirth
  • Slaughterhouse-Five
  • As You Like It

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George (translated by Simon Pare)

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“Whenever Monsieur Perdu looked at a book, he did not see it purely in terms of a story, minimum retail price and an essential balm for the soul; he saw freedom on wings of paper.”

I love this book; I’m annoyed with this book.

I love it because it reminds me of Paris, of all the book stands along the Seine. I love the mention of many wonderful books, which I will list at the bottom of the post. And, I love a romantic story, especially one set abroad.

Yet, I’m annoyed. Jean Perdu is likeable enough, but please. It’s like reading about a cat named Cat. Perdu means lost in French, as anyone with two years of high school French could tell you, and it irritates me to read about a “lost” man with a surname of, essentially, Lost.

Jean Perdu has been lost since his lover, a woman named Manon, left him when he was 29 years of age. It seemed she wanted it all: a husband named Luc, with Jean on the side as her lover, and the author gives us a page or two of reasons why this is perfectly acceptable. After all, she reasons, who doesn’t have enough love for everyone?

Three decades later Jean is handed an unopened letter written by Manon, found in a drawer by his grieving neighbor, Catherine, with devastating news. News which now he can do nothing about as it happened so long ago.

He unanchors his book barge, Literary Apothecary (a charming name, to be sure, as Perdu recommends books he specially chooses for each individual customer) and embarks on a river adventure with a young author named Max, and an Italian man named Silvio. Each are in search of a resolution of his own.

At turns winsome, at times trite, this best selling novel leaves me divided. I understand what it is to grieve the loss of a lover. I understand what it is to read, and “prescribe” books for others. My hesitation comes from the fact that George tries so hard to be heartfelt, but sadly comes across as banal.

Books suggested within Little Paris Bookshop:

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Trilogy in Five Parts by Adam Douglas
  • The Elegance of The Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
  • The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes
  • The Machine Stops by E. M. Forster
  • Promise at Dawn by Romain Gary (tanslated by John Markham Beach)
  • Frauen von Brucken werfen (Throwing Women off Bridges-unpublished in English) by Gunter Gerlach
  • Stages by Hermann Hesse
  • Investigations of a Dog (a short story in The Great Wall of China, translated by Willa and Edwin Muir)
  • Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
  • A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
  • Moby Dick; or, The Whale by Herman Melville
  • The Sexual Life of Catherine M. by Catherine Millet  (translated by Adriana Hunter)
  • The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil (translated by Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike)
  • Delta of Venus by Anais Nin
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
  • the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett, beginning with The Color of Magic and most recent Raising Steam
  • His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman
  • Blindness by Jose Saramago
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • The Ritual of the Ashes by Alem Surre-Garcia and Francoise Meyruels
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  • The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

p.s. The Little Paris Bookshop was first published in German, entitled Das Lavendelzimmer.

p.p.s. I have not abandoned Captivity; I simply read this for Saturday’s book club discussion.

Captivity by György Spiró (a glorious first read of the year, although I am not yet finished)

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Behold Captivity, a novel of a mere 832 pages, each one riveting me to the story of Uri and his companions who are on a mission traveling from Jerusalem to Rome. Do not imagine that Uri is a sturdy traveler, nor that his companions are his friends. He has been selected for reasons he knows not why, other than that his father has loaned a tremendous sum to Agrippa, and it seems being a part of the delegation is the outcome of such a favor. But Uri is mistrusted, his bags are consistently searched, and he is spied upon during every leg of their journey.

Indeed Uri seems an unlikely candidate for such a trip. When they began his ankles were not strong, his belly carried a paunch, his head was balding, his chin was doubled, but worse than any of that is the fact that he cannot see well. His eyesight requires tremendous squinting to see any distance from afar, and Uri had developed a board through which to peer when he was at home in Rome.

But poor eyesight did not hinder him from reading, or from learning languages. Rather Uri can speak Greek, Latin, Egyptian, Hebrew and Aramaic. His favorite passion is reading.

“I also need peace,” he said hoarsely, “to read, because for me nothing else is of interest. I can recite to you the whole of Greek and Latin literature by heart. No one is using me to pass messages to anyone: I swear by Everlasting God who is One that this is the truth.”

Studded throughout the pages of this novel are characters who are already familiar to me from reading through the Bible:

    • Pilate
    • Herod Antipas
    • John the Baptist
    • Simon the Magus
    • the Sanhedrin
    • the high priests such as Caiaphas

I am hopeful that reading this prize-winning historical novel will further enhance my understanding of Biblical times. In and of itself, however, it is a fabulous read. Even if it will take me a few more weeks to finish. (I plan on posting a final review at the end of January.)

A True Novel by Minae Mizumura

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This book tells a story within a story within a story. There is, at the core of it, the relationship between Taro Azuma and Yoko, his childhood friend. These two are where the resemblance to Wuthering Heights is strongest, for they are obsessed with each other although Taro is an unwanted ruffian, and Yuko comes from an affluent family.

Her family is served faithfully by Fumiko, a character through whose point of view much of the story is told. After all, she was there when the children were small; she was there when they grew into their complicated adult lives. But, she does not tell everything, leaving certain parts of the narrative out until the very end, which were only revealed by Yuko’s aunt in the final few pages.

It was a novel I wanted to enjoy, and certainly there were parts which I did. But, I found much of it tedious and overwrought; I was unable to care about the characters who seemed increasingly dramatic and immature. I could not find  much emotional involvement of my own within its pages, not like that I have for Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, or even Jane Eyre.

This novel may by considered a Japanese rendering of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, and indeed it resembles that classic. But the way A True Novel calls to mind the indelible relationships we form in our youth, or the pain we may have experienced in waiting for someone to perfectly love us, is a theme that involves many romantic novels, most of which I found more compelling than this one.

Find more reviews at Vishy’s Blog, A Bookish Way of Life, Tony’s Reading List, and Mirabile Dictu.

Books Read in 2016

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~January~

~February~

~March~

~April~

~May~

~June~

~July~

~August~

~September~

~October~

  • A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
  • The Last Hurrah by Frank O’Connor
  • Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving
  • I.Q. by Joe Ide
  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
  • The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith
  • The Haunting of Hillside School by Kristina Gregory

~November~

  • The Trespasser by Tana French
  • The Secret Ways of Perfume by Cristina Caboni
  • I’ll Take You There by Wally Lamb
  • Turkeys We Have Loved and Eaten and Other Thankful Stuff by Barbara Parks

~December~

  • The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
  • A True Novel by Minae Mizumura
  • The Bible

2016 in Review

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Usually I peruse a list of over 100 books read during the year that was. But as I write I find myself looking at a list with a total of 56, barely one book a week. It’s been an odd year, one in which I struggled to keep my focus on both reading and blogging, but reviewing the year encourages me.

There were lovely parts to 2016:

For me, the best part of blogging is reading with others, and surely those read-alongs and events were a highlight. And now, in no particular order (except for the two largest books in the middle of the collage which were the most well loved), my ten favorite books of 2016 are:

The Story of The Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk

Death by Water by Kenzaburo Oe

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr

Eileen by Otessa Moshfegh

As for 2017? I look forward to reading more Japanese literature, Haruki Murakami’s Absolutely on Music in particular. I look forward to the C. S. Lewis discussion group held every Saturday morning at Wheaton College which begins with That Hideous Strength. I look forward to reading Captivity by György Spiró with several bloggers including Vishy,  Jessica, cirtnecce, DorianTJ and Dwight. Please feel free to join us as we begin in January.

Wherever January takes us, in our bookish adventures and daily lives, I look forward to new ideas. Interesting books. More discussions. Thank you for being a part of my journey these past ten years.