Sunday, 12 September 2021

Late afternoon post...

I’ve been trying to beat the rain today by getting outside in the morning, so this post is later than usual.  I have no tea, but I’m enjoying a couple of treats as I try to get back into my routine.

I had a volunteer book club meeting yesterday.  Our book was Educated by Tara Westover, and it was a huge success.  This memoir tells of Westover's unusual upbringing in an isolated farm on the outskirts of a Mormon town in Idaho.  Her parents, particularly her father, were Mormon extremists focused on preparing for the End Times, and she and her six siblings were denied proper education and professional medical care.  They suffered neglect and abuse, and grew up in an environment of instability, violence and fear.  At sixteen, Tara managed to pass the entrance exam and enrolled in the local Mormon college, and from there, through scholarships and grants, as well as the support of church officials and professors, she went on to receive her BA from Cambridge.  She was awarded a visiting fellowship at Harvard, then she returned to Cambridge to complete her PhD.  While pursuing her education, she also had to come to terms with her loyalty to family members who opposed everything she was now embracing.  All the members of the book club were fascinated, shocked and horrified by her story, although a couple of us were skeptical about the accuracy of the information.  I wondered at her claims to have had no education before entering college, while another member thought she might have exaggerated the degree of neglect and abuse she experienced, mainly at the hands of her father, but also by her mother and one of her older brothers.  We all liked the conversational tone she used, and were left wondering how she (and her siblings!) survived.  We wondered at times what was true and not true, but understood that this represented her experiences, and that others may have experienced these events differently.  It was a book about the reliability of memory, of truth and experience, and of the will to survive at any cost.  Westover mentions her father’s mental health issues, but we thought she herself was probably bipolar, and the other members of her family likely had mental health issues as well.  At the end of the day, we saw this as the story of a young woman who was brought up in an isolated cult environment and managed to escape and make a life in the “real” world.  It was an excellent book club selection that I would highly recommend to just about anyone

That’s all for today.  Stay dry and keep reading!

Bye for now…
Julie

Sunday, 5 September 2021

Lazy post on a long weekend...

I’m feeling lazy this weekend, enjoying the last chance to do a whole lot of nothing before school is back in earnest.  Actually, I’ve been pretty busy this weekend already but thought I should try to squeeze in a post this afternoon so that I leave all of tomorrow free to do… whatever. I'm going to try to get back into the weekly posting habit, but with so much great weather coming up, I can't guarantee that I will post faithfully every Sunday.

I read two books since my last post.  The first was a fabulous YA novel that I happened to get in a box of books I’d ordered in June for my school library.  They were delivered to my house a few weeks ago and this one caught my eye, Everything sad is untrue (a true story) by Daniel Nayeri.  Not only is it a great title, but it’s also got a really interesting cover.  So I picked it up and was immediately sucked into this page-turner of a story.  Told in the form of The Thousand and One Nights (which I’ve never read), Iranian refugee Daniel (the main character) is Scheherazade, spinning tales not to her king/husband in order to save her life, but to his middle-school classmates in Oklahoma to help him explain his culture and fit into his new life.  And like Scheherazade, Daniel’s stories left this reader wanting more.  Weaving together myth, legend, memories and harsh reality, this is the story of Daniel’s experiences as he tries to make sense of his old life and make his way in this new environment in which he finds himself.  I can’t do this book justice, so I’ll choose to say little about it, except to highly recommend it to anyone from about ages 11+.  It is part memoir, part story-telling, an exploration into the difference between speaking and listening, and of course an homage to books and reading.  While it is based on Daniel (the author)’s experiences, it is considered fiction, not memoir.  I urge you to run, not walk, to your nearest library or bookstore and pick up a copy of this excellent book today!

And I just finished an intense novel by Megan Abbot, The turnout, which was another page-turner, but in a totally different way.  Sisters Dara and Marie Durant have grown up with ballet.  Their mother was an accomplished ballerina and they, too, have achieved moderate success in this world.  But they have been running the Durant School of Ballet for years, since the death of their parents, and they still live in their childhood house, a huge old building full of cracks and drafts, with Dara’s husband and former ballet dancer Charlie.  There is obvious tension right from the opening pages, and this only grows as Marie moves out and the dynamics of their close-knit group shifts.  When a small fire in one of the studios occurs, Derek, a belligerent contractor, is hired to do some repairs.  But at his urging, Charlie, Dara and Marie agree to undertake more extensive upgrades.  What follows is a steady collapse into chaos and destruction, of the ballet school, the strained relationships between the members of the group, and within these individuals’ psyches.  What a roller coaster ride this was, an archaeological dig into the disturbing secrets of the Durant family, an intimate exploration of the relationships between family members and others who happen, by poor luck, to be involved with this family, as well as a deep-dive into the cutthroat world of ballet.  I have read something else by Abbot, I think it was a look at the world of competitive gymnastics, which was very good, and this one did not disappoint.  I think it helped that I used to take ballet lessons as a young girl, so many of the scenes were familiar, but I don’t think that’s a prerequisite to understanding and enjoying the book.  This one was more suspenseful than the gymnastics one, more focused on uncovering family secrets than on the actions of the youngsters’ families.  I think I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a detailed, well-researched look at the ballet world, as well as the slow uncovering of a nasty family history - be prepared to feel totally icky by the end!

That’s all for now.  Enjoy the lovely weather, and remember that there’s still another day to this weekend, so try to find time to pick up a good book.  Happy Labour Day!

Bye for now…
Julie