Favorite Books

July 16, 2010

I have always been drawn to books with Asian characters. Maybe that is because there are so few Asians in this part of the country and the most enjoyable way I can find out about their culture is to read Asian inspired novels. At any rate, these are some of my favorites:

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie is a wonderful historical novel about 2 teenage boys who were sent to the Chinese countryside for re-education when Chairman Mao introduced his plan that would forever change China. The author was, himself, re-educated during the 1970’s. He left China and was living in France and working as a filmmaker when he wrote this book. I cannot imagine the life experiences that must have profoundly inspired him in the writing of this novel.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See is about 2 young girls who became special friends through an arranged sort of “match”. They communicated with a secret language known only by and created for women. This language was practiced in a particular area in China and is the only language of this sort that has been known to actually have existed. The book gives a lot of information about the practice of foot binding.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan is a novel about 4 Chinese immigrant mothers and their 4 American born daughters. The book explores the difficulties the Americanized daughters have understanding and appreciating the pasts of their Chinese thinking mothers. Adolescence can be challenging in the best of circumstances, but this book makes you realize that in families like these, there were cultural gaps as well as generation gaps.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See is the one in this list I have read most recently. I wasn’t too sure I would like it as much as Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, but it was by no means a disappointment. This story follows a couple of beautiful Chinese sisters who were involuntarily given in marriage to Chinese brothers whose family immigrated to the US during the war between China and Japan prior to WWII. Their life circumstances change dramatically after these arranged marriages and the novel explores the love and sometimes difficult relationship between sisters.

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck - What can I say? This book is a classic that should be read by everyone who likes to read at all. It was published in 1931 and Pearl Buck won her well-deserved Pulitzer Prize for it in 1932. It is one of my all time favorites.

June 20, 2010

My reading has taken a back seat to lots of other things I’ve been working on, but I did finally finish My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira. It was a fine historical novel. With my nursing background, I found it particularly enlightening in regards to why there were such mass casualties during the Civil War. Besides the excellent research and accurate detailing of medical care and treatment during the Civil War, the book was sweetly romantic.

If I mention historical novels with Civil War settings, I’d hate to leave out another couple of my favorites from the last few years. Robert Hicks, an author from the Nashville, TN area has written a book entitled The Widow of the South. Much of the story revolves around the Battle of Franklin, a major turning point in the Civil War, in which 5 confederate generals were killed. One of those generals, Gen. Otho B. Strahl, was from my hometown. His cannon still sits beside his grave in our old city cemetery. If you know much about Nashville, you will recognize many of the names mentioned in the novel.

Another of my favorite Civil War novels is Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles. This story takes place in southeast Missouri. The author did extensive research and relates a little known account of how many women were detained as suspects for aiding the enemy and sent to a prison for women in St. Louis. Another fact that is revealed in this novel is that many from this area of the country were actually politically neutral but suffered greatly from merely having been in the wrong place at the wrong time. The heroine in this novel is only 18 years old, but full of grit and determination.

Now I’ve started Fire in the Grove by John Esposito. Although I haven’t gotten too far into it, I can say that the writing is very good and I expect to enjoy this non-fiction account of the fire that killed nearly 500 people in Boston’s Cocoanut Grove nightclub in 1942.

I have recently exchanged a book list with a friend from Union City. I intend to read some of the books on her list and she plans to read some of mine. With that, I’ll give you a list of some of my all-time favorites. Many of these are old books and I’m sure I’ll think of plenty more as time goes along, but here is the beginning of my all-time favorites list:

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry - thought I could never like a western, but this is a fabulous book.
Run With the Horseman by Ferroll Sams
To Dance with the White Dog by Terry Kay
Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons
Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons
Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith

And when I get in a bad frame of mind, I can read the Jeeves stories by P. G. Wodehouse over and over. I never tire of them and they always make me laugh.

I’ll add more as I think of them. I highly recommend all of the above.

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.  ~Cicero

May 8, 2010

I read a lot of good books but have also gotten into audio books lately. My audio preferences are usually the classics, many of which I read long ago. When you get a classic on audio, you can almost be assured that the story is being read by a real pro. The classic I listened to on audio most recently was To Kill a Mockingbird. It was read by Sissy Spacek and I can't tell you how wonderful it was to hear her read it. Pure delight!

A good way to get the kids to love good books is to introduce them to audio books. I take my grandchildren along in the car a lot, particularly in the summertime. Since I am involved in library advocacy, I have often wondered if AR (the advanced reading program that all schools participate in) has ruined the joy of reading for many children. Last summer I got White Fang and The Call of the Wild on audio and the grandchildren couldn't wait to get in the car and go someplace with me. We really enjoyed listening to it together and their interest in reading has been reinvigorated.

I've been so busy with library work and flood clean up lately, that I've had to put my reading on the back burner, but I will share a list of my very favorites from the past year. These include but are not limited to:
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout - this won a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize.
The Help (also wonderful on audio) I read the hardcover and then listened to the audio and enjoyed it all over again. This was a first novel by Kathryn Stockett, whose work was rejected many times before finally getting published. Thank goodness Amy Einhorn took a chance on this one.
That Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. Did I read that there is a movie coming out?
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell - When I turn to non-fiction, Gladwell is always a good choice.
The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton. This is an old novel that was probably vastly underappreciated in its day, but a wonderful book.
South of Broad, which is Pat Conroy's latest. I heard mixed reviews, but I loved the book. Pat Conroy has an extraordinary command of words in my opinion.

If you ever need a good book tip, my recommendation is to get in touch with That Bookstore in Blytheville. The website is www.tbib.com. This is the crown jewel of the mid-south for book lovers. It is an independent bookstore owned by Mary Gay Shipley and located in Blytheville, AR. She has never given me a bad recommendation. My good friend, Kaye, is a buyer there. They have frequent book signings and an esteemed reputation in the book world. Laura Bush signed there all day on Saturday, May 15. This is not a political statement on my part - Hillary and Bill Clinton signed their books at TBIB also.

I've got a book all lined up to start soon. You'll hear about this in another week or so.

In the meantime, just remember -


~ William Faulkner ~
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