Under The Covers and Reading

July 29, 2009

Almost as Good as Oscar Day!

Filed under: Uncategorized — by underthecoversandreading @ 7:33 am

The Man Booker Prize longlist has been announced and it’s a day I really look forward to.  Now to get reading (or at least seriously considering reading) some of these finalists.  Their list always highlights something I’ve missed.  Hooray for the Man Booker Prize!

This year’s longlist:

  • The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt
  • Summertime by J. M. Coetzee
  • The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds
  • How to Paint a Dead Man by Sarah Hall
  • The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey
  • Me Cheeta by James Lever
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
  • The Glass Room by Simon Mawer
  • Not Untrue & Not Unkind by Ed O’Loughlin
  • Heliopolis by James Scudamore
  • Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
  • Love and Summer by William Trevor
  • The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

The shortlist will be unveiled September 8, and the winner named October 6 at a dinner at London’s Guildhall.

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July 27, 2009

The Indifferent Stars Above Shines its Light on the Donner Pary

Filed under: Uncategorized — by underthecoversandreading @ 10:07 am

Indifferent Stars AboveAs I wrote weeks ago, I’m an admitted devotee when it comes to reading about the Donner Party and their ill-fated sojourn across the west. I have found this topic strangely compelling since I first learned about it as a child and I am often attracted to books and media discussions about it. Such was the case with Brown’s book– as soon as I saw it was up for review I jumped at the chance to read it. The strange part was it took me quite a while to get to reading it.  I knew it would take me places I was not yet ready to go and I wanted to make sure I was in a space that would allow for undisturbed reflection about the novel and Donners.  Hard to do with young children home and running about.  I finally carved out some time and dove in–I was not disappointed!

Brown tells the story of the Donner party through the eyes of Sarah Graves (Fosdick), a 21 year old newlywed who traveled from IL along with her husband and her own extended family to California. Brown does a fabulous job of recreating the circumstances surrounding their departure. We see the whys and hows of the trek planned out as well as the stunningly bad decision to depart too late in the season to prevent tragedy. We are with them as they meet up with the infamous Donners on their journey to California and as they find themselves trapped in the mountains for the winter with little hope of rescue. Readers feel the anxiety of these people as they anguish over the best course of action: stay and await the spring with ever decreasing food stores or make an attempt to seek help.

What separates this book from others I have read is that Brown does an excellent job of giving us more than just ‘the gory details’ of the Donner party’s descent into madness and cannibalism. We see Sarah before, during, and after Donner and there is as much of interest in the book ‘after’ her rescue as there was in the decision to hike out of camp.

Another excellent aspect of this book is Brown’s use of contemporary wilderness/survival stories within Sarah’s story. We not only see historical information from the period, but Brown uses 20th and 21st century stories of survival (or death) to parallel Sarah’s circumstances. The dramatic juxtaposition of these old/new stories heightens Sarah’s courage and extraordinary will to live instead of just re-rehearsing historical facts.

Brown invites readers to learn about Sarah Graves with him as he travels across the country recreating her journey. This is a personal quest for him as well. He wants to recapture what she might have felt leaving her home and setting out for a ‘better’ life in California. He seeks to know not only what happened to these ill-fated travelers, but how they survived and to what end. This is NOT a book that focuses on the cannibalistic aspect of the Donner saga– it’s much more. It’s about recapturing the humanity of the travelers and asking what propels us to move forward into the future when life seems indifferent to us. ( )

Of Bees and Mist

Filed under: Uncategorized — by underthecoversandreading @ 9:33 am

Of Bees and MistIf there was ever a book that should be made into a film by Tim Burton, it is Eric Setiawan’s novel, Of Bees and Mist.  That may not mean much to many readers, and I hope it’s not off-putting.  I love Burton’s quirky films and I loved Setiawan’s book so I think they would be an extraordinary combination.

Of Bees and Mist is an extraordinary trip into another world.  I’m not sure of the definition of ‘magical realism’ within literary circles, but if this book doesn’t embody it, I don’t know what would.  The reader is transported into the main character, Meridia’s world — one that reminded me quite a bit of Harry Potter, minus the broomsticks and potions.  It’s a timeless world– it feels simultaneously modern and old.  Brides are ‘chosen’ by families and a dowry matters.   The setting is gorgeous and all I could think about was the village that Tim Burton’s art directors would create.  He’s the perfect person to transform this book into film and I hope somehow, somewhere, he discovers it and buys the rights to it.  I know he doesn’t usually deal with female protagonists, but Meridia should be an exception.

I don’t know what I expected from the publisher’s blurb, but it wasn’t what I got.  I adored the main character, Meridia, and she reminded me (in a strange way) of a female Harry Potter.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s no overt magic being done by Meridia, but she’s a young girl who grows up before our eyes with little help from her parents (they are broken by their own passions for each other).  Meridia fights to understand the nature of love that simultaneously saves and destroys her family.  She marries into a family that never fully appreicates her and she endures more than her share of persecution and misunderstanding in the name of keeping her husband and family together.

* Who is family to us?  How do we construct our families?  What part does biology play and what part something or someone else?

*What should we get from our parents?  What do we have a right to expect from that relationship as we get older.  What do we ‘owe’ our parents?  Siblings?

*What makes one a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in-law?

*What is the role of intuition in our lives?  Do you rely on it?  Fear it?

*What are the bees?  What are the mists?

*What kinds of love are present in the novel?

*What is the role of magic in this book?

*Who is Hannah?

Read this one, it’s a charmer!

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