Friday, July 21, 2017

Passing Strange

I admit it. The cover of this book is what drew me in. Little did I know it would play a pivotal role in the story. It is absolutely haunting, beautiful, and alluring. Kudos to Gregory Manchess for the art and Christine Foltzer for the design. I didn't realize, when I snapped it off the shelf that the book would take place in a city I love, nor that it was written by an author I've read, or published by one of my favorite houses. These surprises, plus learning that Klages has written before of a magic-infused San Francisco, and will seek out more on this.

But to the book: the story is primarily set in the 1940's, and is a beautiful love story. In today's world, San Francisco is a stronghold for the LGBTQ community. In that time, though, queer life was forced even more underground. (I'd never heard of the 3 piece rule, for instance, though the internet tells me it was still being used, even in this century.) The story, which involves everything from art, to cross dressed torch singers, to Chinatown, held my attention. That there was magic thrown in, also helped, but to be honest, the magic was more of a bookend plot device than a true element of the story. The real magic was the love these friends had for each other, lasting decades, and the love between an artist and a singer in a long ago San Francisco.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Woman in the Photo

When I was a kid, my dad was offered a position in Johnstown, but turned it down, despite a good salary, because, to him, Johnstown meant "flood". This was in the 1960's. The flood was May 1889, and though it was associated with heavy rains, the cause was completely man-made. Still, Daddy couldn't move past the cultural memory and turned the job down. 

I read this book simply to learn more about the flood. The story (or rather both stories, because there's a past and a present one) was incidental. I like the historical photographs that were included as well as refreshing myself on Clara Barton. What a fascinating image to think of the Johnstowners looking up into the mountain sky, and seeing sailboats there from the killer lake that rested behind the South Fork Dam on the Little Conemaugh River.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Mission Walker: I was given three months to live by Edie Littlefield Sundby

It's a funny thing about courage-- it has a malleable nature, and can be applied equally to the mother who lifts a car off of her child or the soldier who who risks his life to save the rest of his unit from enemy fire. Courage is the woman who helped get 2500 Jewish children safe from Nazi-held Poland in WWII, or the 17 year old girl, lone survivor of a plane crash in the wilds of Peru, who followed creeks and rivers, past the piranhas and crocodiles, to get back to civilization. Courage is countless moments in human survival and endurance, against great odds, and incredible hardship. Courage is the fight against disease, and a terminal diagnosis to hold onto your life.  Courage is Edie Littlefield Sundby.

Imagine yourself a strong, vibrant, intelligent woman, physically fit, an avid walker, and practitioner of yoga. You are 55, and have just returned from volunteer work in India with one of your daughters. The abdominal difficulties you experienced while there could easily be attributed to the change in diet, but they persist at home. It is then you discover you have stage 4 cancer of the gall bladder. The prognosis is grim. But, you are Edie Littlefield Sundby, and you are determined to fight, determined to live.

The Mission Walker is Edie's story, told in her own focused voice. Edie guides the reader through the early days of her diagnosis, into the maze of medical treatment, in which, in her determination not to let cancer claim her quickly, she blazed new trails. She blazed past the predicted three month survival. She kept seeking new options, holding fast to her faith and to her family; through multiple chemotherapy rounds, surgeries, through fighting tumors in different parts of her body, and fighting the side effects of the treatments to save her. And then, in remission and in gratitude, she decided to try to walk the California Mission Trail, grateful, thankful to be alive, hoping to light a candle at each of the 21 missions along the way, and thanking God with every step. Edie recounts the amazing journey of following the bells, not knowing how far she would go, leaving that to God, but determined to try.

Yet there's more to The Mission Walker. Edie was determined to walk the portion of El Camino Real that stretched into Mexico, starting from its beginning in Loreto. The mission trail there was not maintained like the one in California; the journey would be very different and very difficult. As she made her plans for this trek, two years after the start of her first walk, her cancer came back. In a three month window between a repeat scan after radiation and  surgery, armed with all the information she could find, a well-crafted trail kit, determination, and faith, Edie began the walk that would complete her trek of the mission trail. It's an incredible story, an eye opening journey, also faith filled, but additionally a story of strength of every sort. It is just one more example of Edie's courage.

I have to add a disclaimer here: I know Edie. We met in 2012, and though we only spent one day together, it was a joyful one, celebrating the milestones of our children with our families. Edie and I didn't speak much that day. I knew a little of her story, but now realize where in that incredible fight she was. I was preoccupied, fighting my own medical diagnosis, focused more on the precautions I need to take daily to keep safe than on another's needs (which is a little embarrassing to admit, as I am a nurse, so my career has been focused on helping others with their health.) In the intervening years since we met, I followed her following the bells, but still didn't have a real grasp of the scope of her journey. It took this remarkable memoir to bring the journey, the strength of faith and character needed, into focus. Walk on, Edie. You walk strong. You walk with God. Thank you for letting us walk with you.
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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The meeting (redux)

I posted a picture of my mom and dad, the weekend they met 80 years ago next week, on this, the 8th remembrance of her passing. The picture seemed to have struck a cord with a lot of folks, so I am reposting (from my old blog) this account (approved by my mom when she read it) which was originally posted July 6 2005.

It was 1937.  July 4th weekend, Mount Freedom (New Jersey, I think). A resort of sorts. She was 16.  He was 18.

She was there with her brother and his friends as a thank-you for helping out in his office while his assistant was on vacation.

He was there with his buddies, Harold and Phil, part of an irrepressible boyhood trio that stayed friends to the end of their days.

She was watching some boys play ping-pong.  Her brother asked if she wanted to go along to watch some tennis.  "No", she said.  "I'm going to stay here and beat this boy at ping pong."

They played.  The ball bounced from side to side.  Quips and laughter also bounced between them.  The game ended.  I never learned who won.

She joined her brother for lunch.

He found his buddies.  Years later Harold told her that he pointed her out to his friends at lunch.  "Which one?", asked Harold.

"That one", he replied and pointed to her as she walked away with her brother.

"Ah," said Harold.  "The girl with the resonant buttocks."

It must have been quite a walk she had when she was young.

Later that day, she went swimming.  Suddenly, he popped up in front of her in the pool.  He'd done a stealth approach, swimming up underwater, to surprise her.  They spent the afternoon together, but he didn't show up at the dance that was held that night.  There is a picture of him with another girl he knew from that weekend.  Nearly 70 years later, she recalls that he never told her where he was that night and why he didn't come to the dance, but she suspects it had to do with the other girl.

The next morning she packed up to go home to Brighton Beach.  While her brother was checking out, she stood alone.  He came and joined her and asked if he could call her.  She gave him her phone number.  She was 16.  He was 18.  When he died, 44 years later, that scrap of paper with her phone number was still in his wallet.  "I still have it somewhere", she muses.

He did call.  And took the train forever and  a day from The Bronx to Brighton Beach.  They walked with friends along the boardwalk.  As they strolled, they met her father and uncle, coming back from their morning walk.  It was the only time he met her father.

He wrote her letters.  Beautiful letters.  A love poem that was a parody of The Raven.  She saved it for years, but then got mad at him one time and threw all his letters out.

"Are you sure you want to do that?", her younger brother asked.

"Yes!", she replied vehemently.

"You may marry him some day." her brother said.

"Never!" was her response.

Her brother retrieved the love letters from the trash and copied them in his own hand.  Sent them to the girl he would marry--who once confided to her that Her younger brother was such a good writer and a poet.  Did She know that  Her brother written a love poem based on The Raven?

She was furious.  "It was good stuff." her brother told Her.  "And you didn't want it.  Why should it go to waste?"

Their second date, they met at Cousin Ethel's house rather than him having to make the long train trip out.  And their third date, too.  After that, she knew him well enough to meet him in the city.  They dated on and off.  She went to College--Brooklyn College.  He took time off between college and starting Medical school to go to Albany.  He asked her to meet him at the train to see him off.  His whole family was there.  It was the only time she met his father.  "If I'd have known his family was going to be there, I wouldn't have gone!", she now confesses.

She was 16, he was 18.  They dated on and off, and she would get mad at him and tell him to go away.  He was too fresh.  But he always came back.  One night her aunt complained to her mother that she was sitting out on the stoop too late in the night with that boy.

"Mama," she said.  "Do you know what we were talking about?  We were discussing the dorsal dissection of a cat."

She'd send him packing.  He'd come back.  Other boys wooed her.  They didn't win her.  For, suddenly, one day, she realized she loved him dearly.  And couldn't live her life without him.  When he'd hear her tell the story, he'd smile.  He knew, you see.  He knew from that first day.  When she was 16 and he was 18.

Pictures from the Mt Freedom Weekend. She made the sundress she was wearing. He probably threw the game to talk to her some more













Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Goodnight, Boy by Nikki Sheehan

Exquisitely written, but for me, exquisitely unsettling. Goodnight Boy is the story of JC, who was separated from his family at a young age, separated from life as he knew it when the earthquake shook his world in Haiti. He comes to the US as the adoptive (sort of) child of an American couple, whose own world was shook, and destroyed, not by an earthquake, but by the happenstances of life.

Told in flashbacks, and current musings, by JC to his Dog (named Boy) as they are locked together in a kennel by JC's adoptive father, the story unfolds in stops and starts, the writing varied on the pages.  It is haunting, it is heartbreaking, and in it's own way, it is beautiful.

Thank you to the publisher and to librarything for sending me this copy.

From the publisher:
A tale of two very different worlds, both shattered by the loss of loved ones. Tragic, comic and full of hope, thanks to a dog called Boy.
The kennel has been JC’s home ever since his new adoptive father locked him inside. For hours on end, JC sits and tells his dog Boy how he came to this country: his family, the orphanage and the Haitian earthquake that swept everything away.
When his adoptive mother Melanie rescues him, life starts to feel normal again. Until JC does something bad, something that upset his new father so much that he and Boy are banished to the kennel. But as his new father gets sicker, JC realizes they have to find a way out. And so begins a stunning story of a boy, a dog and their journey to freedom.

Just Kids from the Bronx: Telling It the Way It Was: An Oral History by Arlene Alda

My dad grew up in the Bronx, initially on Hoe Ave then later in Grand Ave. He was a child star on vaudeville, and later in the silent movies. Played stickball on the street, and broke his leg one day when he slipped because he was wearing new leather shoes. Went to Townsend, and graduated City College at the ripe old age of 14. In 1932, when he went for his interview for Medical School, he looked so young that the dean at Long Island School of Medicine told him to "come back when you're wearing long pants." He did. He also fell in love with a girl from another country, one called "Brooklyn".  He was afraid to tell his folks he was dating a girl from so far away, and when he got home late from seeing her safely home, would to tell them he'd fallen asleep on the subway, and missed is stop. Most of my memories from childhood visits to New York center on the more boisterous Brooklyn clan. My father's family was wounded, and we spent much less time there. I've been going through old papers of my dad's and wanted to find out more about his world, so picked up this book.

It's a good collection of oral histories, progressing from people born in my father's era to the 1990's. I was more drawn to the earlier ones, and wished my dad, who died in 1981, could have been around to contribute. I'd probably read anything that included excerpts from Carl Reiner, Mary Higgins Clark, Jules Feiffer, andNeil degrasse Tyson, though.

Favorite quote: This is my life. Art chooses you. You don't choose art. You become possessed. This is my commitment and I've never deviated from that. Milton Glaser in "Just Kids from the Bronx: Telling It the Way it Was, An Oral History: By Arlene Alda

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Ink and Bone (The Great Library, #1) by Rachel Caine

Oh joy! A new series that, if it continues in the vein of the first book, may be fun to read.  Set in an alternative history of our world, Ink and Bone depicts a world where there is a central library (with satellite sister libraries all over the world.) It is there where all the books are housed. Forget your home libraries, the joy of browsing a musty bookshop, or running your hands along the spines of a collection of your favorite tomes. Possession of a book outside the library is illegal. However, the Great Library, through harnessed magic, has been able to create codexes (think e-readers with the ability to connect to any book, anywhere, which is what folks use for reading. Personal journals are allowed, but at the death of the writer, they are swallowed into the collection of the library. There are those that oppose the Library's power, and those that believe books can and should be shared with the people. Both, the Great Library views as heretical and must be stopped at all costs.

Our hero, Jess, is the son of a book smuggler. It's been his family's trade for generations. He loves books, but not the stealing, hiding, illegal aspects of the family business. Jess is able to win a coveted spot to become a candidate for a spot in the library's service. Though his family views this as a unique opportunity to have a spy and book thief within the system, Jess finds he is pulled many ways, both by his family and by the friends he makes. My writeup sounds boring, but the book has many tangled loyalties and situations, moving things along.

I'm looking forward to reading the next in the series, as I digest the reverse debate of our own world-- where books could destroy a system of the equivalent of ebooks rather than debating if  ebooks destroying books.

Many thanks to Blogging for Books, and to the publisher, for sending along a copy to me.