Inherit the Wind

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Inherit the Wind
by Jerome Lawrence

This play was a loose retelling of the real Scopes Monkey Trial. Two lawyers pitted themselves against each other to battle religious freedom and the role it plays in our educational system. A young teacher is arrested for teaching evolution in his classroom. His small town is up in arms over the matter and a pious lawyer, Brady, comes into town to rail on behalf of the injustice done to good Christians. The other lawyer, Drummond, is a soft-spoken man who has come to defend the teacher. Throw in the teacher’s girlfriend, who happens to be the town preacher’s daughter and you’ve got quite a mess.

This is definitely a fictionalized version of the real events, but it’s close enough to give us a peak into the fall reach the case had at the time. One of the most important characters, in my opinion, is the cynical reporter E. K. Hornbeck, who acts as the lens through which we see the trial unfold.  His quick wit and sharp barbs provide humor, but he lacks the empathy of characters like Drummond.

The real crux of the play hinges on man’s ability to think for himself and form his own conclusions. That message is beautifully stated.

BOTTOM LINE: The play is excellent, the movie is excellent, and I can’t wait to see this one performed as a live play one day.

“Lady, when you lose your power to laugh, you lose your power to think straight."

“I’m sorry if I offend you. But I don’t swear just for the hell of it. You see, I figure language is a poor enough means of communication as it is. So we ought to use all the words we’ve got. Besides, there are damned few words that everybody understands.” 

Instructions and When We Were Very Young

Monday, June 29, 2015

by Neil Gaiman
A children’s book in classic Gaiman style, we follow along on a short journey with the author’s instructions leading the way. There are monsters and creature to meet along the way, some to trust, others’ to avoid. I fell for this book after hearing Gaiman read the whole thing during a talk I attended a few years ago. His lilting British accent made each new line come alive.
BOTTOM LINE: It’s a gateway book for youngsters to get introduced to Gaiman’s work with lovely illustrations and wise advice on every page.
When We Were Very Young
by A. A. Milne

This sweet book includes a collection of poems by Milne, who is better known for his Winnie the Pooh books. It’s a great one to share with kids. The illustrations were my favorite part. They’re beautiful and added so much to each page.

BOTTOM LINE: A must for a child’s library.

Second Read Books

Friday, June 26, 2015

 I love St. Augustine, Florida. It's the oldest city in the United States. This year it celebrated its 450th anniversary! Every time we visit we wander the cobblestone streets and find new little shops to stop explore. On our trip to Florida in May we found Second Read Books and just had to stop in. 

The Huz and I spent a little time in the tiny shop and I found a gorgeous 1960 edition of Jane Eyre that I bought. I have a slight problem with buying different copies of Jane Eyre. I just can't help myself. I'm not a fan of the silly editions with damsels in distress on the cover, but I can't pass up a gothic version like this.

Side note: If you ever find yourself in St. Augustine I would highly recommend the restaurant Catch 27. It is amazing! Take your own bottle of wine (no corking fee) and get the blackened fish, you'll thank me later. 

Photos by me.

The Mockingbird Next Door

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Mockingbird Next Door
Life with Harper Lee
by Marja Mills

Like so many other, I’ve always loved To Kill a Mockingbird. In 2011 I took a road trip with the Huz and we visited the Mockingbird museum in Monroeville, Alabama. We got to see the original site where Harper Lee and Truman Capote’s homes were and we even ate at a few local places said to be Lee’s favorites. I think that trip is a huge part of why I enjoyed this book so much.

Reading about the author’s own trips to the same place brought back great memories. Her first person account of getting to know the Lee sisters takes place in the tiny town of Monroeville. We had stayed in the same hotel and ate at the same restaurants. Mills visits Lee’s hometown for a simple article, assuming she’ll never have the opportunity to speak with the infamous author herself. Yet over the course of the next few years she actually becomes friends with the author and rents a house next door for a while. They watched movies from Netflix together and shared the occasional cup of coffee in the morning.

It was like sinking into a porch rocker on a humid afternoon. Mills tells you about the slow, unexpected friendship in a leisurely way that suits the setting. Lee comes across as witty and feisty. If the whole things had been fiction I wouldn’t have been surprised because it reads like such a dream for any fan of TKAM.

Mill’s portrait is exactly how I always pictured Lee would actually be. I’ve heard about the recent complaints about the authenticity of the book. I hope it’s all unfounded. I suppose there’s no way to know for sure, but in my opinion I felt like the author was constantly respectful of the Lees and their privacy. There’s no feel of privacy being evaded or secrets being aired to the public. It’s just a glimpse into their quiet world.

A few years ago I read Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields. It came across as dry and a bit boring. I think the thing that was obviously missing is that irreplaceable spark that Harper Lee herself provides.

I loved the honest way it addressed Lee’s complicated relationship with fame. The sincerity about being proud of her work, but hating the attention and press that came with it. She was honored when she won the Pulitzer, but she still didn’t want to go through the stress of publishing another book.

BOTTOM LINE: A wonderful read for any fan of To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s also a great way to get excited before the release of Go Set a Watchman on July 14th!

Wordless Wed: Sydney Harbor

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Sydney Harbor
More Wordless Wednesday here.
Photo by moi.

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight

Monday, June 22, 2015

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight
by Alexandra Fuller

In her memoir of growing up in Africa, Fuller paints a vivid and unflinching portrait of her unconventional childhood. Alexandra, who goes by Bobo, lived with her parents and sister in Rhodesia in the midst of Civil War in the 1970s. The daily dangers they face become the norm as they grow up.

The style of the book reminded me quite a bit of The Liar’s Club and The Glass Castle. All three are similar tales of a somewhat neglected upbringing. This one is more extreme because it’s in Africa. The threat of terrorists and war increases the danger, but the struggle of a child growing up with alcoholic and selfish parents is a universal one.

Loss is a major theme throughout the book. Bobo and her family lose multiple children and at times their grief overwhelms them. Some of the surreal experiences Fuller describes almost seem normal when she writes about them. Certain aspects remind you that they are not anywhere near the western world, like the sanitary conditions, which were appalling. The kids constantly had worms or fleas and were often left to fend for themselves.

The circumstances of their life felt so foreign. There was no structure. Their existence depended on the whims of their irresponsible parents. Bobo’s older sister Vanessa was a somewhat stable force in her life. She seemed to understand more about what was happening, but she protected her sister as much as she could.

BOTTOM LINE: I love reading memoirs that give me a glimpse into a completely foreign life and this one did just that. I don’t envy Fuller’s childhood, but it was fascinating to read about. 

“The land itself, of course, was careless of its name. It still is. You can call it what you like, fight all the wars you want in its name. Change its name altogether if you like. The land is still unblinking under the African sky. It will absorb white man's blood and the blood of African men, it will absorb blood from slaughtered cattle and the blood from a woman's birthing with equal thirst. It doesn't care.” 

The Descendants

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Descendants
by Kaui Hart Hemmings

Set in Hawaii, this novel is a nuanced portrait of a family in distress. There’s Matt, the father who long ago checked out on his family. He’s forced to start parenting again when an accident puts his wife Joanie in a coma. He is left to reconnect with his two daughters, the troubled teen Alex, and 10-year-old Scotty who is growing up too fast, as they come to terms with Joanie’s situation.

Along the way he discovers Joanie might have been having an affair and quickly his grief becomes twisted with bitterness and confusion. He begins to question the decisions he has made over the past few years. Like most families, they are dysfunctional, yet they truly love each other.

The character of Joni is fascinating because we see her only through memories and her husband and daughter’s points of view. We never hear why she made the decisions she did, which doesn’t take anything away from the story, but it leaves us feeling as frustrated as Matt is.

This was one of the rare cases when I saw the movie first, but I’m still glad I went back and read the book. The movie version is excellent, but the book adds even more depth because we can hear Matt’s internal monologue and struggle as he tries to reconnect with his daughters and come to terms with his relationship with his wife.

BOTTOM LINE: I was surprised by how much I loved this book. Even though the two teenage daughters were annoying at times, it was necessary for the dynamic of the story. It was a great study in grief and love and all the confusing emotions in between. 

“That's how you know you love someone, I guess, when you can't experience anything without wishing the other person were there to see it, too.”

“Get used to it. She'll be there for the rest of your life. She'll be there on birthdays, at Christmastime, when you get your period, when you graduate, have sex, when you marry, have children, when you die. She'll be there and she won't be there.”

Wordless Wed: Fountain Square

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Fountain Square in Indiana
More Wordless Wednesday here.
Photo by moi.

Bonjour Tristesse

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Bonjour Tristesse
by Francoise Sagan

Cecile is a teenage girl spending the summer with her father in a villa in the south of France. His mistress Elsa is there as well and Cecile sinks into the relaxed atmosphere from the moment she arrives. Her father treats her more like a friend than a daughter and allows he allows his love life to play out in front of her. Anne, a former friend of her mother’s, comes to visit and a romance sparks between her and Cecile’s father. The

This book is part of the Penguins Great Loves series. Each edition in this series comes with a gorgeous cover and I buy them whenever I see them in bookstores. That’s how I first heard of this book. It’s a strange little tale, but one that sweeps you right along.

Cecile and her father see themselves as people fated to be alone. They push others away if they get close at all. Their immaturity and selfishness hurt those around them and they constantly long for whatever they don’t have. They both use the people who love them to further their gain. Even at the end of the book we see that despite the dire circumstances, they haven’t really changed.

Although the book is slim, the narrator is convincing. She feels like a real teenage girl, making selfish decisions, changing her mind in a moment, not thinking about the consequences of her actions, etc. She is jealous of her father’s attentions and at the same time is distant from him. I think the most impressive part of the book is that the author was only 18 years old when she wrote this.

BOTTOM LINE: A quick summer read for a lazy day in the sun. The eerie tone of the book will leave you with an air of loneliness after you finish.

“Certain phrases fascinate me with their subtle implications.”

Mini Reviews: Midnight in Austenland and Girl Walks into a Bar...

Monday, June 15, 2015

Midnight in Austenland 
by Shannon Hale

This book was fun and light. Charlotte is a successful business woman whose husband leaves her and their two teenage children for another woman. She discovers Austen’s work and takes a vacation to Austenland. This one tends more towards Northanger Abbey than Pride and Prejudice, but don’t expect too much from the mystery in the book. You should definitely not be reading this series for depth. It works as a standalone novel, but I’d recommend reading Austenland first. It’s the better of the two books and introduces the place and quite a few of the returning characters. 

BOTTOM LINE: Pure fluff, but enjoyable fluff. I read it during the Dewey Readathon and it was a great choice for later in the day.

**Side Note: Have you guys seen the Austenland movie? It's hilarious and I loved it!

Girl Walks into a Bar... 
by Rachel Dratch 

Rachel Dratch tells her story in the latest in a line of hilarious memoirs from SNL alums. Where Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were more entertaining and gave more life advice, Dratch seems to dwell on coming to terms with being type-cast. She also talked a lot about getting offered bad roles and how her career changed after her time on SNL. 

She also had an interesting turn of events that drives the book. She unexpectedly got pregnant when she was 44. Because of this she talks more about dating issues in her 30s and then struggles when she became a mom. The audiobook is fun because the author reads it. It even includes some Debbie Downer SNL clippings. 

BOTTOM LINE: Easy quick read, but I would recommend Fey or Poehler’s book instead.

Battery Park Book Exchange

Friday, June 12, 2015

So while on vacation in May the Huz and I visited an amazing bookstore in Asheville, North Carolina. It's called the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar and it was amazing! When you first go in you see a big wine bar area, then you climb the stairs and you can just wander for hours through the stacks.
Joyce reigns over the staircase and dogs are welcome throughout the shop! There are little corners everywhere with chairs and tables for people to sit and chat over their glasses of wine.
 Little tables in front of the bookstore. We grabbed a drink and sat out here people watching after the sun had set.
This area was packed with chairs and little tables. People were sipping wine and nibbling on cheese plates. The whole time other shoppers were browsing the stacks around them.
These were all rare books. There were so many great classics! I was incredibly tempted to buy a copy of Rebecca... but it was $300.
 The Huz browsed with me while I squealed at each new nook we discovered. I ended up buying a copy of Doctor Doolittle and Hemingway's The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories.
 The main wine bar area when you first enter the shop.
Even the front door is inviting. You can see the little coffee bar where a barista will ring up your books when you're ready to leave (although you never really are ready to leave). If you're ever in North Carolina I definitely recommend you check it out!

Wordless Wed: Prague Artist

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

An artist at the Prague Castle in the Czech Republic. 
I bought a painting from him after 
touring the castle in the pouring rain.
More Wordless Wednesday here.
Photo by moi.

A Journal of the Plague Year

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A Journal of the Plague Year
by Daniel Defoe

With Ebola outbreaks on the news and debates on vaccinations on every blog, it seemed like a perfect time to return to one of the original records of a disease outbreak. I was particularly curious to read this book because it was mentioned multiple times in “On Immunity”. The author of Robinson Crusoe wrote this fictionalized account of a man who lives through the bubonic plague in England in 1665. Defoe was only 5-years-old at that time, but his account is considered one of the most accurate ones of the plague.

Defoe looks at the plague through the eyes of one man. He’s forced to decide if he should stay or go when the outbreak begins. So many people fled, but some didn’t realize they had already been infected. They carried the plague with them to other towns. Some people who were sick would throw themselves into the pits of the dead and wait their death out.

The book is surprisingly interesting for a nonfiction account written centuries ago. Defoe talked about the actually details of how the outbreak was handle. For example, when one person in a family got sick, the rest of the family was kept in their house with a guard posted out front or other times they were all sent to the sick house, where they often became infected even if they weren’t sick before.

Random Tidbits:
The scene from “Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail” where they are yelling out “Bring out your dead!” was a real thing. People went around with carts and actually yelled that out to collect the dead bodies.

The standard of burying people six feet under was also established at this point. It used to be a very arbitrary depth before the plague.

BOTTOM LINE: It’s less about the plague itself than it is about the study of a society in duress. It was fascinating to see the different ways people reacted. Their fight or flight tendencies haven’t changed much over the last 300 years.