Friday, October 21, 2016

The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler's Wife
Title: The Time Traveler's Wife
Author: Audry Niffenegger
Publication Date: 2003
Pages: 500
Genre: Fantasy / Romance / Fiction
How I Found It: I bought it at a library book sale ages ago, plus I think I've seen the movie at some point.
Date Completed: 9/19/16

Summary: Henry and Clare do not have a traditional relationship. It's hard to when Henry's experience of time is extremely irregular. He never knows when he'll simply disappear to another time or how long it will be until he comes back. 

What I Thought: This book was very popular back around the time it came out. I was in high school then and never got around to reading it. I saw the movie at some point (which was lovely and I wouldn't mind seeing again now that I've read the book), but I am so glad to be reading this story now and not as a teenager. I feel a much greater appreciation for the complexities of Henry and Clare's life as a married adult than I ever could have back then.

This is a love story. There is no doubt about it. The idea of two people being connected across time and space is terribly romantic. Niffenegger does a lovely job of exploring the logistics of such a relationship, but she also does not sacrifice the depths of emotions one expects in a romance. 

While the terror of Henry's situation certainly keeps the book moving and interesting, it's Clare with whom I find myself much more intrigued. While Henry is flitting through time, often fighting for survival, Clare is left with more questions than answers, despite being the one who has to present a picture of normalcy to the world. In some ways, I see her as similar to a military or spy wife; she waits at home hoping for the best while simultaneously having to go about life as though nothing were strange or wrong.

That idea really helped me to connect to Clare. While I do not go through anything like she or military wives go through, I am a worrier. The idea of Kevin simply disappearing randomly and possibly being in danger would terrify me. I would never handle it with as much grace or sanity as Clare does in the book.

It seems somehow appropriate to be sharing this book today. Yesterday Kevin and I celebrated four years of marriage. So, to talk today about this book, in which the marriage relationship is so central, feels right. I understand better than ever now that marriage is hard, even with you don't have a time traveling spouse. But it's a good hard. The work is rewarding and worthwhile and I'm so happy to be doing it. This story was a nice reminder of that.

Rating: ★★★★☆
Will I Re-Read: Probably not - I'd like to watch the movie again, though
If You Liked This, Try: The Royal We / Fates and Furies / Landline

A Reduced Review: A love story both sweet and sad; I enjoyed this one more than I thought I would.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

All the King's Men - Robert Penn Warren

All the King's Men
Title: All the King's Men
Author: Robert Penn Warren
Publication Date: 1946
Pages: 672
Genre: Classic / Historical / Political / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 9/18/16

Summary: The dramatic career of politician Willie Stark is narrated by political reporter, Jack Burden. Their stories become intertwined as the plot advances.

What I Thought: I've always really wanted to like this book. It feels like a book I should like. And yet...

Maybe I read it at the wrong time. Maybe reading about about corrupt politics was not the right choice right now. Normally, you know I'm a huge political junkie. But this election cycle is even wearing on me. I'm binging on The West Wing and political idealism, not seeking out further commentary on how the system is broken. 

The story is good. The writing is good. I get why this book won the Pulitzer. And yet...

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Book of Unknown Americans - Cristina Henríquez

The Book of Unknown Americans
Title: The Book of Unknown Americans
Author: Cristina Henríquez
Publication Date: 2014
Pages: 286
Genre: Fiction
How I Found It: I can't remember
Date Completed: 9/15/16

Summary: Upon moving to Delaware so their daughter Maribel can attend a special education school, the Riveras are faced with a much different world than their Mexican home. Living alongside them are Hispanic immigrants from all across Central and South America, each facing their own challenges in their new home.

What I Thought: As our country is deep into a divisive debate on immigration leading up to this election, I cannot think of a better time to read this book. As we bandy about rhetoric and policy arguments about immigration, it becomes easy to forget the real lives that hang in the balance. Henríquez is doing her best to help us remember.

The book centers around the Riveras, a family from Mexico who arrive in Delaware anticipating a better education for their daughter, Maribel. Maribel has recently suffered brain damage and the educational options available to her in Mexico paled in comparison to possibilities in the States. And so, Alma and Arturo pick up and move the family across a continent with hopes of healing for both Maribel and their hearts. They find themselves in an apartment complex largely populated with other Hispanic immigrants. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Light Between Oceans - M. L. Stedman

The Light Between Oceans
Title: The Light Between Oceans
Author: M. L. Stedman
Publication Date: 3/20/12
Pages: 343
Genre: Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: Kevin's aunt told me about it ages ago and now the film adaptation is in theaters.
Date Completed: 9/14/16

Summary: While manning the lighthouse on a remote Australian island, Tom and Isabel Sherbourne find a baby washed ashore. The decisions they make from that point shape their lives forever.

What I Thought: Kevin's aunt, who shares my love of literature, recommended this to me years ago. I should have picked it up much sooner than this. Knowing the film was about to come out, I knew the time had finally come.

What a moving story. I am not a mother, but I imagine that to read this and be a mother would only amplify the emotions felt. To read about mothers losing children is so powerful. I have friends and family who have lost babies and who have fought for their lives in the NICU. As I read about Isobel and Hannah each grieving their forfeiture of motherhood in different ways, my heart ached for them. While I have no experience with it personally, I believe losing a child to be the most intense grief a human can endure. It's why the date of divorce skyrockets after a child is lost - an issue with which Stedman deals in the novel. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Sheltering Sky - Paul Bowles

The Sheltering Sky
Title: The Sheltering Sky
Author: Paul Bowles
Publication Date: 1949
Pages: 342
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 9/11/16

Summary: Americans Port, Kit, and Tunner are exploring Saharan Africa in the years after WWII. Port and Kit are trying to work out their marital issues while the group also struggles with the inherent dangers of the region.

What I Thought: I knew basically nothing about this novel going in. As I've mentioned before, that's turning out to be the best way to approach these Modern Library list books. I have no expectations.

I was pleasantly surprised. I was expecting something more akin to other books on the list. The Sheltering Sky is both similar and very different from the 100 Best patterns I've noticed. It follows a married couple and their friend as they explore Saharan Africa in the years directly following WWII. As you can imagine, a love triangle ensues, though I was grateful it did not consume the book. You would think this setup would make it too similar to some of the British novels on the list. Yet, Bowles writes with a very different tone and allows his characters experiences, desires, and emotions that would be either far too déclassé or far too progressive for other authors. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Snobs - Julian Fellowes

Title: Snobs
Author: Julian Fellowes
Publication Date: 2004
Pages: 288
Genre: Chick Lit / Romance / Satire / Fiction
How I Found It: Julian Fellowes wrote Downton Abbey
Date Completed: 9/7/16

Summary: When Edith Lavery meets Charles, Earl Broughton and heir to even bigger titles, she seems to have met her dream. With Charles comes acceptance into the high-brow world of English aristocracy. But is it enough to make Edith happy?

What I Thought: This book was delightful. My Anglophilia was well sated. Think of this as Downton Abbey set in modern times. All the intrigue and colorful characters without the historical bent. After all, Fellowes was the writer and creator of that hit show not long after he wrote this book. 

I think what I enjoyed most about this book is how much it poked fun at the world. I love the idea of this world - my obsession with British royalty should have made that clear by now. And, because of the 100 Best Novels challenge, I have read so many books set in this world. Not the modern version, to be sure, but the antiquated Britain of Downton Abbey and the surrounding decades. If you've been following my progress on that challenge, you know I am bored to death with that genre at the moment. It's a genre I used to love, and yet the list is so saturated with it, the stories have become too familiar for me. Enter, Snobs

Friday, October 7, 2016

Rice Noodle Fish - Matt Goulding

Rice Noodle Fish
Title: Rice Noodle Fish: Deep Travels Through Japan's Food Culture
Author: Matt Goulding
Publication Date: 10/27/15
Pages: 352
Genre: Food / Nonfiction
How I Found It: It's been on my TBR
Date Completed: 9/3/16

Summary: An in-depth look into the regional cuisine of Japan.

What I Thought: I went to Japan in high school. I was part of a cultural delegation from my suburb of Columbus to a suburb of Tokyo. I had previously been to Europe, but that didn't make the journey to Asia any less revolutionary for my young self. 

Japan is not a place I would have chosen to go at that age. Of course, my wunderlust was insatiable even then, so I was not about to turn away an opportunity to travel anywhere new. Even at 18, I understood how much world I had yet to see. Europe had, I suppose, whet my appetite to experience the world beyond the Midwest in big ways. Culturally, I got so much out of the trip. I stayed with a Japanese host family and was amazed by the vastness of Tokyo.

The big downside? My 18-year-old palate had hardly even begun the journey to become what it is today (and I still have a long way down that path to travel yet). It suffices to say I was still a pretty picky eater. I spent the trip desperately trying to hunt down as much white rice as I could consume. I certainly was not on the look out for learning about their food culture. The only culinary eye-opening I had was having shabu shabu with my host family. I've thought about it constantly since. In fact, since my sweet husband got me a fondue pot for my birthday, I'm finally going to be able to attempt a stateside recreation of that meal. 

I promise this whole post isn't about my own experiences in Japan. I share all that to say this: I've heard chefs rave about the glory of Japanese cuisine for years. I know it's a mecca of the culinary world for many of the best palates on the planet. I've never quite understood that since my own culinary experience was so different (due to my own immaturity). Goulding opened my eyes. I mean, really opened them.