Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy *****

A couple years ago I was reading Shannon's blog, Half Soled Boots, when she posted a link to the blog What Is Stephen Harper Reading?. First, for all my ignorant fellow Americans (I'm including myself in this), Stephen Harper is the PM of Canada. Duh. Why didn't I know that?
Anyways, the Canadian author Yann Martel started the blog to give Mr. Harper some suggestions of things to read. Looking at the list (which is now on it's 73rd book) I realized I've read very few of these lovely books. So I thought that whenever I felt the urge I'd just whale away at it.
This is book #1. If you're wanting something light & happy, don't read this amazingly short Tolstoy story. But if you want to read something profound & satisfying, do it.
The book opens with Ivan already dead, but we then travel back in time to follow his life up to the moment of his last breath. Ivan followed all the rules of society. So why does his life look like nothing as he lays in bed dying?
As I read the story, I couldn't help thinking of my own father's death. Is this how he felt, I wondered, as his life quickly folded up around him? Did I keep up the act, the farce, that he wasn't dying, just as Ivan's family does? I don't know. I do know that this is a book of great value. And I certainly can see why Yann Martel recommended it to Stephen Harper.
I recommend it to you.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery ****

The second book in the series reminded me quite a bit of Little Men, at least at first. It grated on my nerves because the author, like Louisa May Alcott, tried to use her writing to influence the morals of the young people reading her books. Though I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with that, it does date the books very much. I wish both those authors would have just stuck to telling the stories of their main characters, rather than using them as moral benchmarks that I think very rarely are ever lived up to. For me, Anne of Avonlea was redeemed by some of the stories contained in it, which did just tell of Anne's journeys & experiences.
I know the use of characters as pinnacles of virtue to be attained is still used, but I do think that now they are shown in their weakness, thereby helping those of us who are so very imperfect feel more in common with them. Anne's imperfections are those of being dreamy & perhaps too optimistic, but I don't think those are really considered faults in our society.
All in all, Lucy Maude Montgomery paints a picture of a character that it's hard not to like, simply because she embodies youth & the promise therein. I'm sure my own pessimism towards Anne, which isn't much, has to do with the fact that I'm moving farther & farther away from those days myself with each new year. It's a hard job to keep those feelings alive in your heart, but perhaps I can give it a try in this new year. I do have one major thing in common with Anne--I love nature & am inspired by it as much as she is. Despondency gets wiped away when I look outside & see the beautiful world around me.
Maybe there is a bit of Anne in me after all.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Garden of Eve by K.L. Going ****

I've just finished another Mark Twain Award nominee, & the best one word description is "magical". Evie lost her mother to cancer 10 months ago, & her father has moved them far away from their home in Michigan to a failing apple orchard in New York state. She meets a boy who says he's a ghost, & gets a gift from someone she never met. And when given the choice between this world or one where her mother may be waiting for her, she has a hard time deciding.
The heartache of loss is told very well in this book. Losing a parent is never easy, but I can imagine losing one at the age of 10 would bring your world to a halt. Change is inevitable, & it's hard moving forward when you feel like you're leaving someone behind. But as Evie's mother says in the book, "There's a time for birth & a time for death. Life moves in cycles, Evie. That's the way things are meant to be."
May you read this book & find the beauty in life again.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery ****

I've found that copyright-free books are available for free on my Kindle, so after downloading about a dozen of them I decided to actually read some! I'd never read Anne of Green Gables, though I'd seen a dramatization of it once when I was younger. It's one of those great classic books for girls, & I'm glad I've finally read it.
If you aren't familiar with the story, it's about an 11 year old girl who is adopted by an older brother & sister, Matthew & Marilla Cuthbert, who never married. They intended to adopt a boy to help around the farm, but accidentally got Anne instead. After meeting her they decide to keep her, & the rest is history. By the end of the book, she's made a bosom friend, a bitter enemy, & a lot of mistakes. But she's 16 years old & about to start teaching.
This brings up a question from me--how could a 16 year old be a teacher? I know Anne goes away to school for a year to study for it, but wow! I guess since the children she teaches are all younger than her it works. And I'm sure back when this was written it was hard to get teachers in the more remote parts of Canada. But being married to a teacher myself, I find it amazing to see the discrepancy between teacher training 100 years ago & now. Wow!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Let the Great World Spin by Colum Mccann *****

First & foremost, this a beautiful book. That's the best word to describe this masterpiece--absolutely beautiful. Love & death, loss & renewal, hope & failure. It's all here. I marvel that a man could so eloquently & perfectly describe what goes on inside a woman's head. Not just one woman, but many women. All different, all familiar. Then you have the men. So different also, but at the same time all trying to get something, somewhere.
The setting is New York City, August 7, 1974. What happens is a man walks along a tightrope strung from one tower to the other of the World Trade Center. And how that is a backdrop to all the millions of lives in the city, that one moment in time, suspended in space.
If you read one book this year, I highly encourage this one. If you don't feel as though you have a connection to the person telling the story, just keep reading. You will. Because there are many tellers of this story.

On another note, this was the first book I read with my new Kindle. It is nifty, to say the least! I don't think I'll read all my books this way, but it is neat to use when I want to. I ordered a cover for it, which I think is a necessity for me since I take books everywhere & I know I'll be doing the same with the Kindle. I feel funny reading books on it, since I'm so used to holding an actual book, but I think I'll get used to it. I also hope libraries start having ebooks, then it would be a little more practical. Until then, I'm reading all the great free books I can get my hands on (other than the above book)! If you have an ebook reader, let me know what you think about it.