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Review: Often I Am Happy: A Novel by Jens Christian Grøndahl

51No0KeGq5L._SY346_My Interest

Obviously, my interest was related to the Bibliophilic Excursions subscription box. Of the three books, this one interested me the least. It sounded painful.

The Story

 

“There are times when I cannot hold his absence, and the feeling is a physical one…it is not a metaphor.”

“His body next to me in bed, the sound of his steps, the familiar timbre of his voice in the familiar rooms. Without him, they’re just somewhere.”

“…I didn’t change the sheets for several weeks. I slept in them until I no longer felt his smell. That is one thing I would have liked to talk to you about, [his] smell. How can you know someone so well without having words to describe how they smell. His smell is a fact in my remembrance, and it stays there, undescribed. It was, and is no longer but as a speechless recollection.”

Anna’s husband has just died. The story is what she tells her dead best friend as she comes to terms with her loss. Through Anna’s self-therapy of telling her late friend about her loss, she reveals her life and its secrets.

“It has dawned on me that human beings were never meant to reconcile their longing with reason, not at the expense of longing. As if I could love him in a lesser way just because he’s dead.”

“He had really believed that love and repetition could turn anyone into the right one.”

As she goes over her memories, the emotions sometimes still so raw even many years later, we come to know Anna and come to understand Denmark as a place of more than Tivoli gardens,  more than a 6 foot tall Queen, more than open- faced sandwiches, and even more than bikes with child-carrying buckets on the front. We come to see the manners and mores of daily life, of national secrets and shames.

Her observations on the suburbanites are fascinating and biting. She prefers the city, and following her husband’s death she returns to the city neighborhood of her youth.

“{She] has to go to the bakery in their Range Rover, just to make sure that people in their neighborhood know that she has one.”

“Apparently, noting is more purifying for people’s self-esteem than to place themselves at the very edge of someone else’s grief and show that they are not at all dizzy.”

“I cannot comprehend that the rich are unable to free themselves from their wealth.”

Her other vulnerabilities, not just those related to her husband’s death, come to the fore as well.

“I’d never known the prototypical estrogenic fermentation of motherhood….”

“You must pick the more suitable pain….”

“I always disliked answering the phone without knowing who it was. It frightens me a little, I don’t know why, as if someone wants to hurt me….cell phones….Not right now, is what I think when I see the name on the display, and the guilt is offset by my relief at evading the communicativeness of my surroundings.”

 

My Thoughts

Was I ever wrong! This was a captivating story, told exactly the right way. There were a few wonky phrases that must not translate perfectly into English, but that’s a minor detail. This was a fresh perspective to me and I devoured it. My Commonplace book will soon have pages of quotes from this very slim, but amazing, book.

My Verdict

4 Stars

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Jens Christian Grøndahl

Read more about the author here.

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Review: Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking and a Bonus Review

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Trendy I’m not! Nothing like reviewing a book four years or so after it was a “thing.” Nonetheless, this little book packs a good punch in terms of the information presented. I listened to the audio, charmingly read by the author himself. I learned so much!

First, what I was already getting right. Cook good food at home and enjoy it with those you love. Done. Have cozy blankets. Got ’em, complete with warm purring cats. Enjoy a good book. No problem.

Second, what I could do better at or start doing. Get outside and not just to get into the car or get the mail. Enjoy the outdoors again. Hmmmm. That will take work. Get together with people more often. COVID is affecting this, but I miss my Sunday School class so much. We should be having our Christmas party in a week or so, as well as the ladies fun sock-swap party at church. Those are big events in my calendar, by the way. Candles. I’m not anti-candle and I am glad to hear that for hygge non-scented is the way to go. That helps a lot. And at 12 (2 of them) and 13-years old my cats are not likely to knock one over and burn the house down. I do have a fireplace, so I could buy some wood. I’d need a couch first though–I threw it out this year due to the state it was in.

My Conclusion? Everything about this resonated with me much more today than when it was at peak trendiness. It always takes me a while to like new things. My only regret was the recipes were a bit hard to follow on audio and they are apparently not on the author’s website, which I thought was odd. [See my review of Invisible Women. Probably the men at the Happiness Institute didn’t think of women listening to the book and wanting to cook the hygge-ish dinners, LOL.]

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking

This is one of the books in the Bibliophilic Excursions subscription box that I am reviewing this week.

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Who doesn’t want to be happier?

Here’s what Danes do that most Americans don’t–and the Danes are happier:

  • Bike to work
  • Eat dinner nightly at home with their family
  • Work a 30 hour week with weeks of vacation
  • Have affordable childcare
  • Have free medical care

Oh, and be sure to light candles!

Ok, I’m joking. The Danes just do not settle for anything but a decent work-life balance. Dinner at home with the family is almost sacred. Workaholic hours are scorned. People care about being with their families and friends instead of just their boss and coworkers.

Denmark and it’s near Scandinavian neighbors are often held up to Americans as models of what we should “have” in terms of bang for the buck from the government. I’m not sure how a nation as vast as hours, where nearly everything runs 24 hours a day anymore could do that. Aside from the obvious such as how do I bike to work if my job is 73 miles away? Or how do you work a 30-hour shift as a nurse and the surgery you are assisting on goes into emergency mode and you can’t leave. I’m sure Danes have jobs that DO require overtime, but I imagine it is paid and extra leave allotted.

I’ll leave the political part to the new Congress, but I liked the sound of all of this even if it is done with an American 40 hour week being held to 40 hours or vacation time that can be taken without snarky comments, side-eye looks, or a coworker trampling you when you are off. Those would be great for nearly everyone.

Have I mentioned how soothing it was to listen to the two little audiobooks? Light a candle, snuggle under a soft blanket, pour yourself a drink or brew some tea or coffee, open up some fine chocolate, and just listen and dream.

The Little Book of Lykke: Secrets of the World’s Happiest People by Meik Wiking

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Review: The Age of Extravagance: An Edwardian Reader

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My Interest

I’m not sure where I recently saw the cover to this, but I knew I had to have it. I found a reasonably priced old library book version and I consider the money well spent. The cover [dust jacket] is by Cecil Beaton and it is superb! It was the illustration that spoke to me–I truly did judge a book by its cover. Thankfully it lived up to the hype.

Just What is an Edwardian Reader?

“Ah, good King Edward’s golden days!”

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Image Credit: Royal Collection Sir Samuel Luke Fildes, Edward VII

This book is an anthology of writing and remembrance on Edwardian society. A compilation of extracts from novels, memoirs, essays, short stories, travel writing, poetry, and more, all of which paint with words as vivid a portrait of life during the short reign of Victoria’s son as Beaton’s magnificent cover illustration does with art.

Among the authors:

  • Cecil Beaton
  • Virginia Woolf
  • Osbert Sitwell
  • Edith Wharton
  • Harold Nicolson
  • Somerset Maugham
  • Vita Sackville-West
  • Others

The Stories

One of the most interesting was written by Daphne Fielding, formerly Marchioness of Bath, about the keeping of Longleat House–Lord Bath’s great estate. It gives amazing details about how life was lived at Longleat in the Edwardian Era. When added to Harold Nicolson’s account of the Edwardian Weekend we can see very well how the King, his aristocratic friends, the professional beauties, the wives, the mistresses, and the servants all lived during the heyday of the House Party or Shooting Party or the Thursday to Wednesday or ‘What is a Weekend?’ Lavish? Yes. Modern resort-spa comfort? No. Glutenous eating? You bet. Hard work? Hmmmm.

Hard work? I’m sure it was for all–both upstairs and downstairs (you lug a huge brass can full of hot water up six flights of stairs for a lady’s hip bath. (Unions baby, unions). Not only did the Aristocrats upstairs have to take turns for the bathroom, but they had to change clothes constantly, attend church and possibly even daily prayers, plus find their way in the dark to their night-time trysts and not embarrass themselves by allowing gas to exit their person after stuffing themselves on 12 kinds of nearly rotten game at any of the umpteen meals consumed with too much booze and topped off with pounds of cheese and sugar. Hard work, too, to be constantly in the company of the same people and not get peevish. Hard work to stand in the rain and kill things all day. Hard work to drive about with your husband’s mistress and your lover’s wife and look at dreary churches in the rain. Hard work, indeed.

We can all give thanks, like Harold Nicolson did, that

“Compared to the strenuous social discipline which these hardy people imposed upon themselves, our own laxity may seem a little decadent. Who among us to-day would really dress for church and dress for luncheon and dress for tea and dress again for dinner? Who among us would possess the endurance to relish all those meals, to relish all that tittle-tattle? Who to-day would care whether he was or was not invited to Upyatt Lacy or to West Warren? Who to-day prints or reads those lists of Saturday to Monday parties? The war has not been fought in vain. We have been released from false and exacting pretensions. We have our jumpers, our cocktails and our freedom We can smoke pipes in Bond Street, and wear grey flannel in June….

“…Let us be frank about it. The Edwardians were vulgar to a degree. They lacked style. They possessed on the hard glitter of their own electric light: a light which beat down pitilessly upon courtier, Ptarmigan, bridge scores, little enamel boxes, and plates and plates of food. They lacked simplicity, and their intricacies were expensive but futile.” (The Edwardian Weekend, p.252-253)

In short, Harold is saying, that the Edwardians did not Mari Kondo their lives and keep only what sparked joy. I love it when a man is ahead of his time, don’t you?

My Thoughts

This was an impulse buy –picked for its glorious book jacket cover. It is not to be regretted. I cannot pick only one favorite piece. From the poem and pieces quoted or discussed above to The King is Crowned to The Christening to Christmas Day to Virginia Woolf’s 1907 to The Carlton to Edith Wharton’s Expiration to what MIGHT be my favorite, Harold Nicholson’s The Edwardian Weekend, to the other “might,” The Annual Exodus, each piece delighted in so many new and glorious ways.

The Age of Extravagance: An Edwardian Reader edited by Mary Elisabeth Edes and Dudley Frasier is available used at reasonable prices.

 

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Review: The Switch by Beth O’Leary

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Breaking News!! I have a new must-read author!! Beth O’Leary has followed up The Flatshare with a book just a great!

My Interest

I loved just about everything in The Flatshare, so I knew I had to read or listen to this one, too. I’m so glad I did!

The Story

Lena has a great life in London. She has flatmates she loves, a great boyfriend, a career… a career that…well…no spoilers.

Up in Yorkshire, her Granny, Eileen, at 79 is stuck in a rut created by the life she led with the husband who ditched her.

Both need a break from their lives. Oh, and then there’s Lena’s Mum, who is still deep in grief. Yeah. That, too.

Lena and Eileen decide to swap lives. No, not in a weird but funny Freaky Friday sort of way–they really just swap residences. So for two month Lena lives at her Gran’s and takes part in her Gran’s activities and Eileen lives in London with Lena’s 20-something aged flatmates.

The result is amazing!

My Thoughts

This book was so much fun. Never did she play on stereotypes of “old” people which was the best part. 79 year old Eileen goes and does what she would have done in her 20s had she not married. Lena, who has been London- and career-centric for most of her 20s puts her talents to use while walking in her Grandma’s footsteps around her hometown. Both learn more than therapy could ever teach.

4 Full Stars

This will be such a cute movie if done right. But I insist on Julie Walters (of course) for Eileen and, of course, Jeremy Irons for Todd!

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Read my review of The Flatshare here.

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Review: The Three Graces of Val-Kill by Emily Herring Wilson & Arthurdale by Nancy Hoffman for Nonfiction November

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My Interest

While I’m not as liberal as Eleanor, I do admire her above almost all American women. I have read most everything on her and by her. The most interesting parts of her, to me, are her celebrated political partnership with the husband who both nearly destroyed her with his unfaithfulness and then set her free to live her own life. Her selflessness in nursing him through the early days of his polio is another example. She survived her #meetoo moments in her own home where her grandmother was forced to have multiple locks installed on Eleanor’s bedroom door to keep out the drunken out-of-control young uncles. She may have been groomed and used by her charismatic female headmistress–whom she adored all her life. That she carried her own suitcase, wrote the letters to G.I.’s mothers that she promised at their hospital bedsides, and that she grew as a person to leave behind the racism and antisemitism of her time and class make her worthy of my admiration. That she was a pretty awful mother (she bought one of those baby cages to hang outside a window for the baby to nap in) is evident in the 19 marriages between her four children. But, even in that she worked to improve and did improve. And, she became a truly beloved Grandmother. All while earning the title of great StatesWOMEN of our nation and the world.

The Story

This book purports to tell of one of the three great experiments in living Eleanor either helped to create or was a participant in (for the second see the second review; the third was her end-of-life living arrangement). In the late 1920s, while FDR was either on his houseboat in Florida or at Warm Springs, Eleanor and two friends (who were life partners or today would have married) set up housekeeping together in a cottage they had built, with FDR’s full approval, on his “Hyde Park” [really Springwood] Estate. They all slept in a dormitory-style bedroom, had their linens monogrammed with their joint initials, and fell happily into a sort of community home life that they enjoyed.

Nan Cook and Marion Dickerman became part of the Roosevelt family in many ways. Nan built the famous Vall-Kill furniture at a small woodshop near the cottage. Marion and Eleanor would buy and jointly run the Todhunter School for Girls in New York. The ladies accompanied Eleanor and her two youngest sons, Franklin, Jr. [the second son to bear that name–the first one having died in infancy] and John on camping trips, up to Campobello, and on a trip to Europe which FDR’s mother ruined by insisting that Eleanor and the boys have a chauffeur since Eleanor was First Lady of New York state.

But Eleanor kept evolving. She kept moving. She was still Franklin’s official wife, even if his secretary became his emotional wife. She was also still mother to five children who, for much of this time, were basically abandoned by FDR. She was a leading spokeswoman for Democratic Women in New York state. Nan and Marion were also involved in politics, but so too were Caroline O’Day and her partner and Elinor Morgantheau whose husband would serve FDR as Treasury Secretary.

In the White House, Eleanor had little time for the friends back in the little cottage. She famously took up with Lorena Hickok, “Hick,” whose career as one of the nation’s top female reporters was destroyed by Hick’s becoming too emotionally attached to Eleanor to keep the objectivity needed in those days to be a reporter.

The end had to come and it did. In a bad way. Eleanor could be like that. No spoilers.

My Thoughts

At times the writing of this book was very odd. Here are just a few examples.

Eleanor had never made a plan for what she wanted as a wife, mother, and daughter-in-law, and her life had been unexpectedly difficult” (p. 16). Did women do this at the turn of the 20th century?

…the unthinkable death of an infant” (p. 19)  An infant dying in 1909 was a regular occurrence, regardless of class!

She joined the newly formed Junior League for rich women but did volunteer work in settlement houses” (p. 20) what an awkward sentence. And, she was a rich woman!

The author also falls into two traps that I do not like in modern history writing. First, she “supposes” what Eleanor, Nan, and Marion “might” have done in the evening or in the course of their day. That is not helpful. It’s like the fictionalized scenes in t.v.’s The Crown–it is wrong to invent scenes in a real life. Second, she nearly lets FDR’s story take over in a few places–not nearly as often as in similar books, but it is there. In any biography of Eleanor, FDR will naturally play a large role. But this book was about a slice of her life. Finding insufficiently detailed information on her topic, I feel she padded the book to get it to a respectable page count. Had she instead have dealt more with Todhunter School or with Vall-Kil Industries and the furniture, the book would have been a more authentic account of this interesting relationship and experiment. Instead, while interesting, it fell short.  While Arthurdale (see second review below) did have a tie-in to the relationship, other chapters truly did not.

The Three Graces of Va-Kill: Eleanor Roosevelt, Marion Dickerman, and Nancy Cook and in the Place They Made Their Own by Emily Herring Wilson

Eleanor’s Other Experiment in Living

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Eleanor also championed progressive causes like resettling coal miners into new, purpose-built communities like West Virginia’s Arthurdale–which became a pet cause of hers. In addition to brand new homes, settlers had subsistence farm plots for “homesteading” and were to have employment in factories or industries brought in to serve the area. The children were given Nursery School and progressive education through high school in a new, modern school building. They received hot, nutritious lunches and had an inspiring curriculum. Sadly, the necessary industry never developed, and settlers, while in much nicer homes, were saved mostly by World War II.

This book, written for upper-level elementary school students does an excellent job of presenting the purpose and reality of Arthurdale.  Another WPA Homestead Community (there were several), Dyes Colony in Arkansas, “gave birth” to a little boy named J.R. who grew up to be singer Johnny Cash.

Eleanor Roosevelt and the Arthurdale Experiment by Nancy Hoffman

Note: In the interest of fairness, I read this book in February but wanted to save the review to go with The Three Graces (above).

Both of these books were appropriate for both of these November reading challenges.

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Nonfiction November Review: Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez

My Interest

I’m a woman.

The Story

If you are a woman you will read this book. Now, here are some of the reasons why:

  1. Doctors, aside from their gynecology and labor/delivery training, are trained on an “average” male body even though women’s heart attacks are very different.
  2. Drugs, with a few exceptions, have traditionally been tested on mostly male volunteers. Which explains why some do not do what they should for women
  3. City planners design spaces that all must live in, but that forget the needs of women and children for things like grocery stores and playgrounds.
  4. Transportation systems engineers design systems for men’s commute to work–not for women’s round-about trips to first check on Grandma, then drop the two stroller-bound toddlers at daycare and THEN go to work and then at the end of the day adding a stop to buy groceries before going to the daycare and the other Grandma’s house.
  5. Cars and airbags are designed for men. Pregnant women, who are naturally closer to the steering wheel? Never considered.
  6. Disaster relief teams, refugee camps, and similar forget that women menstruate, endure cultural shunning for being with men to whom they are not related, and often must give birth. Condoms, yes. Sanitary pads–no. Or worse, only tampons in spite of taboos restricting them to only married women.

The book shows all the ways that leaving women out of surveying, quantifying, and otherwise amassing information to inform decisions is costing us time, money, productivity, advancement, lives, and more. Just read it.

My Thoughts

There are so many more I won’t go on. Now, about the author. Yes, she is a strident left-wing feminist and yes the HRC person is mentioned more than one time. Ignore both and read the book. This book has been needed for so long! The distortions of data have cost women lives, dignity, safety, and opportunities–and that is being said by someone far to the right of the author. This book should be used in every course on quantitative research or similar. It is not a boring textbook. The author tells the story very well and illustrates it almost too well. This is one of the most interesting nonfiction books I’ve read in years. I do not agree with every single thing she says, but it was very interesting and thought-provoking. Just read it. Have I mentioned you should read it?

 

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Invisible  Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez

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Novellas in November Review: The Provincial Lady Goes Further by E.M. Delafield

My Interest

Epistolary novels are a thing with me. I love reading real or fictional diaries, books of letter, tweets, emails–anything similar. Love it. I think it started when 84 Charing Cross Road came out while I was in high school. Since then I have loved such books. (My posts on them are linked at the bottom of this post, too.)

A while back I read The Diary of A Provincial Lady and just knew I’d read any others if it was a series. Today’s review is of the second book in the series.

The Story

Note: This is one book where it would be a little easier to enjoy the story if you’ve read the first book, but it can the “who’s who” of the story can also be figured out pretty quickly if you have not.

The Provincial lady is married  to Robert an agent or “man of business” of similar on a large landed estate in Shire. The children, son Robin, daughter Vicky, are both off to boarding school this year. Cat Hellen Willis is still with them. And, The Lady herself has enjoyed literary success, so for a very brief time the family excheuquer is in good shape. Good enough to by herself a dear little London flat. So, off she goes to London to write. Except she stiill can’t say “no” to requests and gets entangled with outrageous peoplegoes to their outrageous parties and dinners and gets nothing done. Robert is left home with the new cook and occasionally writes to suggest it is time to come home. The children thrive at school.

My Thoughts

This was the perfect, mindless, little escape back to a time when maids and cooks (not to mention boarding schools) could still be afforded by many quite normal, decently-educated people. It was just plain fun. I look forward, eventually, to getting through the entire series.

I discovered, while getting the link to this book on Amazon, that the copy I bought may have been pirated and could also be The Provincial Lady Goes to London [which could be an alternate title for US/UK]. How interesting!

The Provincial Lady Goes Further by E.M. Delafield.  [Note, I’m linking to a different version than the one I bought]

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Nonfiction November Review: Hill Women by Cassie Chambers

My Interest

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A few miles down the road at the Adams County, Ohio, line, is the start of Appalachia. I did not grow up here, but landed here through a series of events related to trying to rent a house with 4 cats! Plus, my mother retired here in the same neighborhood with my brother’s in-laws. I live surrounded by Appalachia or people who grew up there. In my former job, in Louisville, I worked with staff, lawyers, and librarians who grew up in Eastern Kentucky and did not view it as “making it out” in the way many outsiders do. Some had had help from  Berea or Alice Lloyd College. Others had National Merit Scholarships or income-based free rides to state colleges. They were not ashamed of these roots–nor should they be. Unless you are from there or are very close to someone who is, it can see like the back side of nowhere. In many ways, it is. But in all the ways that matter, that view is wrong. An often staggering work ethic, family and community loyalty, preservation of historic ways of working, of cooking, of surviving, and of speaking are all part of it.

The Story

Cassie Chambers was born while her parents were students at one of America’s few remaining “work-study” colleges, Berea College in Kentucky. They came from Eastern Kentucky [historically it was Western Virginia] where there are coal mountains, the farms that gave definition to the overused word “hardscrabble” and a lot of “outdoors.” Moonshine comes to mind to those not from there (as well as to those who are but with a different view). It’s soup beans, cornbread and home canned vegetables for many meals, it is summers working tobacco, and butchering a hog in the fall. Cassie’s mother grew up in exactly that life with hardworking, but to the rest of America “uneducated” parents in Owsley County. This was the type place that introduced Jack and Bobby Kennedy to the meaning of “poverty.”

Orlando and Wilma Chambers wanted more for their only child. While Cassie went thru the public schools in Berea and her father rose to have a PhD in Agricultural Economics, even they did not truly envision the height to which their daughter would climb. Like the future Queen of the Netherlands, (attended the branch in China) like two of Lord Mountbatten’s grandchildren (attended the UK branch), like the heir to the former Greek throne and many others, Cassie got accepted to the United World College of the U.S.A.–one of the schools that, like Outward Bound, grew out of Salem and Gordonstoun–the schools Prince Philip attended. Princes Charles, Andrew, and Edward and host of other semi-royals attended Gordonstoun, too.

DJI_0421-HDRPhoto: Dan Rose [if this is incorrect please I will be happy to correct it]

United World College U.S.A. in New Mexico

The name says it all–United World College. Cassie landed in this rarefied atmosphere for the two year stint that sets up students regardless of income from all over the world and prepares them for and connects them with the world’s most competitive colleges–or as close as possible to them. I once went on a job interview to a small college in Pennsylvania. My student driver was shocked that I’d  heard of this school–his Alma Mater. His mother sold vegetables in a Kenyan market. It takes you places just like Berea College took her parents places–only even father. Cassie stuck it out and “made it.” Better yet, she decided home had a lot to give her as well and now helps all sorts of women there.

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Map of Kentucky showing Owsley County

The real stars of this book though are her Aunt Ruth and her Granny. These women worked harder than the hardest working men all their lives. The farmed tobacco. While the world looks down on that now the truth is there are few crops worldwide that have ever had the income potential for small farmers in the USA or in Malawi or other nations that burly tobacco has. These women, who for a variety of reasons, didn’t finish elementary or high school, coped with life in the way the matriarchs of history have always done. They just got up and did it. They shared what they had. They went without, but they got on with it.

They managed to convince Wilma, Cassie’s mother, to graduate from high school, and to go on get her degree. [Eventually Aunt Ruth got a GED–in almost record time, too.] Unlike in Hillbilly Elegy (the dysfunctional family portrait of the region) the men in Cassie’s family worked. They worked that farm. They worked later at other types of jobs. The provided for their family. The, like many in the region even today, would not accept handouts or charity. Their pride was everything.

Perhaps my favorite story was when she asks her Aunt Ruth about the word “hillbilly.” “I suppose so,” [or similar–I had the audio version] she says when Cassie asks if she is one. It is acknowledged that is ok for someone from there to use it. “Redneck” is one term they do not like. There are people all around my area who feel the same way. It can be a term of respect in its way; most often it is a racial slur. Twenty years ago, I would never have looked at the semantics of this. Today, it seems right to stop saying that word. I am Scotch-Irish, just like Cassie’s family. That group came to the Midwest through Virginia. Mine took a detour to Australia, but it is still the same group of people from whom I descend. My family just moved a lot faster.

My Thoughts

Cassie made me very angry when she dared to apply today’s woke view of older man/younger women relationships. Yes, TODAY, it would not happen for a 15 year old to date a man 32. But in that time he was well-known in the community, was a very hard worker, was not violent and she had left school and was ready to do what most young women did then–marry and have children. Cassie’s shrillness on this was unnecessary. Her grandfather was a good man, a good husband and a good provider. Her grandmother did not appear to have regrets. So leave it be.

I also skipped past the parts on Trump being elected. I’m not a supporter of his, but this week I could not handle any more moaning about him. The book was written not long after his election. This week he appears to have lost his bid for re-election.

She made me proud, too. She took her boyfriend home to have dinner with the family. It wasn’t easy–she was college girl at one of the world’s leading colleges. Dinner in a trailer isn’t what is done there. I found her embarrassment at her relatives manners and even, in other scenes of that era of her parents’ ways to be typical of her age. I was happy that she could reflect on it and be glad she did it. Something in her told her she needed their blessing. Thank goodness, too.

Otherwise, I quite admired her for her grit and determination. Academically she went form an average high school in a peripherally below-average education state to Universities that regularly deny entry to the graduates of Choate, Groton, Eton, and Harrow–the schools that regularly create Presidents and Prime Ministers.

I admire, too, the passion she brings to her work helping poor women. She does not talk down to them–she understands them. She exposes the Kentucky court system for what it is. The laws are stacked against them in family court, especially. In time, perhaps letting in light on that rot, will give rise to a thorough cleaning of the system. I hope so.

Today Cassie is happily married with a son, lives in Louisville. She is active in politics and has taught in the law school at the University of Louisville. She seems like someone I would have liked to work for in a law firm.

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A final note. Only a publishing intern straight Manhattan (and I don’t mean Kansas) would compare this story with Educated. Let’s remember that Cassie grew up in a town (Berea), with two educated parents, attended public schools, went to the doctor, and had normal experiences. In no way does that compare to Educated. Even her mother’s story still centers on public school, a doctor’s help, and a college education. Someone made a silly marketing decision with that choice.

Hill Women: Finding Family and a Way Forward in the Appalachian Mountains by Cassie Chambers.

My friend Susan at Girls In White Dresses offers a more conservative take on the book here.

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Review: Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

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“Piranesi is a tenebrous study in solitude.” 

Paraic O’Donnell in the Guardian

Definition of tenebrous

1 : shut off from the light : dark, murky tenebrous depths 2 : hard to understand : obscure a tenebrous affair 3 : causing gloom

My Interest

I stumbled upon this book–which, by the sound of it should be way outside my comfort zone, at Eric Karl Anderson‘s Youtube channel. (I think it was the first and last name that did it–I was once crazy in love with a guy with that name, albeit not this one]. I think I found him via Twitter. My first time watching him and he got me to read a “way out there” book! He mentions the person cataloging the contents of this huge, fantasy-ridden house. I wanted to read it instantly, fantasy, or no fantasy elements.

(It is the first book reviewed)

Amazon says it is “an intoxicating, hypnotic new novel set in a dreamlike alternative reality” which, for once, is true! Chiwetel Ejiofor’s reading of the story was wonderfully hypnotic and dreamy. I listened to it mostly in small doses as a soothing bedtime story at first. Then I was hooked and wanted to know the outcome. I became obsessed.

The Story

“Entry for the 8th day of the 8th month of the year the albatross came to the Southwest halls.

It is my practice to index my journal entries every other week or so. I find this is more efficient than indexing them straight away. After some time has passed it is easier to separate the important from the ephemeral. This morning…I sat down…with my journal and index. A great deal has happened since I last performed this task. I made an entry into the index:

Prophet, appearance of.

Journal #10, page 148-152

I made another entry:

Prophecies concerning the coming of Sixteen….”

[I listened to the audio, so punctuation may be a little off.]

The story is set in a strange, unending house with so many corridors and statuses and even a captive ocean.  One man spends his life exploring the place and compiling the journals/catalogs of its contents. It was the journals and indexing that caught my attention–the rest sounded like fantasy and I rarely enjoy that. This time I did!

My Thoughts

At first, to make sense of it, all I could do was to sing to myself :

It’s a big, big house

With lots and lots of room

A big, big table

With lots and lots of food

A big, big yard

Where we can play football

A big, big house

It’s my father’s house

(Ziyu Lu–see below)

Gradually I began to understand a little of the story. The keeping of meticulous notebooks–the cataloging and indexing that had initially caught my attention kept nagging at me. I wanted to know about those notebooks. I wanted these journals to be a bit like a grown-up version of Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You crossed with, say, an outstanding guide to Harewood House. That would be utterly fascinating for a fantasy world! In time, I began to see the “house,” to “know” the corridors, and to understand the Year the Albatross Came to the Southwest Corridor.

Piranesi, as our narrator is known, seemed to be telling me of an alternate world. But, was this really not an alternative world but a re-telling, with a few digressions, of the story of creation? I keep having that feeling. The unending-ness of the “house,” the ocean, (he devised his own method of predicting the tides) all seemed to signal that. But then he talked of a crime and a few other events. No, I thought—not a creation re-telling. Hmmmm. I couldn’t get a real grasp of the story until the end. Aha! came at the end. To say more would be to write unfortunately spoilers.

No matter whether I could put all the pieces together or not, it was such a wonderful, soothing story to listen to! Piranesi himself seemed so sweet, so gentle. I thought of Mr. Tumnus in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe due to both the tone in which he was written and the tone in which the reader, Chiwetel Ejiofor, voiced him. Plus, who wouldn’t love a journaler/indexer/cataloger who uses “see also” notes?

I am NOT a fantasy reader, but this one delighted me. It deserves all the praise it is getting, though I imagine a movie of it would be too creepy for me!

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

4 VERY FULL, VERY BRIGHT STARS!

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Review: His Only Wife: A Novel by Peace Adzo Medie

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from Netgalley.com

Afi Tekple has grown up with a widowed mother who is “beholden,” as we used to say, to wealthy woman in the community for her home, her job, her daughter’s education. When “Auntie” [as the lady is known] needs a wife for her well-off, son to tempt him away from the “foreign” woman who is the mother of his child, her gaze falls on Afi. No matter that the son cannot show up for the [traditional] wedding–it goes on with a brother as his proxy.

Afi is then parked in a luxury apartment in Ghana’s capital city, Accra, a modern city with all the normal upper-class diversions.  Only one problem–Elikem  or “Elie” as he is known, rarely visits the apartment in the same luxury development expatriates and his own brother’s current girlfriend live. How can Afi be a wife without a husband?

I did not like Afi. That is not to say I like Elie, either. Afi was no naive American marrying a Ghanaian hotshot. She knew the score. She knew the men of her area and ethnic group. Elie just did what men do there. I found her whining to be about as tone deaf as Meghan Markle’s. I thought she was very spoiled and tried to hard to feel put-out over everything.

As for Elie, if Afi had bothered to listen, he was as upfront as most men would ever be about his situation. Malawi, where I lived, is a world away from Ghana in most ways, but traditional culture is very much the same in many places on the African continent. One successful person supports several villages worth of relatives. Men have their ways. Women accept them–or not.

Afi’s friend was basically right. By all that he knew, Elie WAS a good man. And, yes, many women would have–and willingly. So what was up with precious little Afi? She no longer lived in the dreary shack of a house her mother rented from Auntie. She had the career she wanted in the city to have it in and her son would grow up with almost unlimited privileged. It wasn’t enough.

map-of-ghana

I’m sure I’m supposed to side with Afi and see her as a champion for women. And, she was a champion for women. But, again, like Meghan Markle, she’d have nothing without the guy having provided it! It’s not that no other Ghanaian women think like Afi–I’m sure there are millions who do. To be the only wife is every woman’s dream. In no culture is plural marriage or the “bit on the side” taken without insult. It was just the WAY Afi whined about it. I did not hear maturity in it. I heard only “I want, I want, I deserve,” yet never a reason for it. Why was she worthy? Why did she and not the other woman deserve this commitment? That is what was truly lacking in this story.

In spite of my feelings for Afi, the story was well-told. I did not like having an American voice read the book. When a book is set elsewhere, I want to hear the accent of that country in the audio book.

His Only Wife: A Novel  by Peace Adzo Medie

3.5 Stars

Sunshine

Other Titles I’ve Read From Reece Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine Book Club

 

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Everything Inside: Stories by Edwidge Danticat

 

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The Guest List: A Novel by Lucy Foley

 

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Next Year in Havana: A Novel by Chancel Cleeton

 

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Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

 

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Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

 

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Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

 

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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