Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Well, duh!

I nearly forgot--The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill (HarperCollins, 2006). Love this novel! One of those thoroughly engrossing, thinking about it even when you're not reading kind of books. And it's a fat one, too! Afterward, I skimmed through the author's notes, and only then thought, "Wow, the research!"


Back Again

Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger (Simon and Schuster, 2007): This book I read a review of and immediately booked online at my libraries. (I love this reading method!) It's about a "transgendered" girl who changes her name, gets a new wardrobe and then copes with living as a boy in high school. She/he is patient with her mother and former best friend (who has her own problems fitting in—both of them were home-schooled for their elementary years) and surprised by her new best friend who accepts the change with alacrity and even writes an essay in her/his honour, on the topic of parrotfish, females of which species frequently change sexes, becoming "super males" with a first-dibs hold on procreation. I can't say I really bought that parallel (would the school alpha female really be that secure?) but on the whole the book is humorous and gentle but firm, much like its hero/ine; and, okay, maybe I'm a little less skeptical about this whole "transgendered" thing.

The character her/himself asks, why does it have to be one or the other? Why can't we just dress, act and socialize in the way that best satisfies us? She/he has discovered that among a Native people (I can't remember which one) "two spirit" people were respected. I think of my favourite such character, in Louise Erdrich's The Birchbark House, an irascible older woman who lives, hunts, works by herself, doing all work, men's and women's, her own way; who watches overs the little girl with true, though untender and distant, care.

Angelica by Arthur Phillips (Random House, 2007): Another "read review and reserve" title. It was in The New Yorker. What an odd and engrossing novel! A Victorian narrator is telling it, at the request of a doctor--so right away we know that something is wrong. The same story, roughly, is told four times, about a family unit rocked by something apparently supernatural, which in the end destroys them, sort of. First there is the wife and mother, who fears the evil spirit she sees molesting her four-year-old daughter. Then there is the spiritualist who is brought to the mother's attention by the housemaid. This woman, strong and convincing, is at first keen on the money she can make from this disturbed woman, then moved to pity and love, for both the woman and her daughter. Then there is the husband and father, the very picture of (what we imagine as) the Victorian middle-class husband and father: earnest, pompous, baffled. Slowly, his grip on his life is loosened. Finally, there is the daughter, the eponymous Angelica, over whom the mysterious battle has been fought. It is her story that clarifies—but always with caution. I enjoyed this very much.

The Last Girls of Pompeii by Kathryn Lasky (Viking 2007): Well, it's a very fine novel if you've never read anything set in ancient Rome...well, Pompeii, I guess; with lots of detail about life at that time and a satisfying ending.

Barbara Gowdy's Helpless (HarperCollins, 2007) was echte BG, involving several sad characters with sorry lives who nevertheless try to remain positive, and are sometimes rewarded for sticking it out. The White Bone seems like a miracle, compared to this and Mr Sandman. This is not to say that I don't like BG--quite the contrary. I feel the tenderest love for her girls; and in this book, desperately sorry for poor Ron, who is so...well, helpless.

Then there was The Margarets by Sheri S. Tepper (HarperCollins, 2007). Oh, Sheri, I love you! In this story she comes up with a reason for why human beings are so short-sighted. It's really too bad there isn't a race of benevolent, sentient cats out there to come and teach us the lessons we need--and to sacrifice so much for us, so patiently, just because we take care of their mutant relatives. I was delighted to find the book, after a stimulating conversation about Sheri and her outrageous feminist thoughts at our family gathering a few weeks ago. I must try some more of her books; e.g., Gibbon's Decline and Fall (love the title).

The Gods In Winter by Patricia Miles (1978; Front Street, 2005). A very entertaining and intriguing story in which some classical gods reenact one of their stories on a new stage, the British countryside in modern times. It was resurrected by Tamora Pierce, who wrote an Afterword. Nice call, Front Street.

Gossamer by Lois Lowry (Houghton Mifflin, 2006): Another "child with a special task" tale from this author, who does it well; this is a simple one, and easy. And sort of old-fashioned.

King of the Mild Frontier by Chris Crutcher (Greenwillow/HarperTempest, 2003). Another entertaining memoir from an author whose books I have never (and in this case likely never will, due to their strong boy/man appeal) read. I am touched and amazed at how uncomplaining he is about his upbringing. It all sounds like a lark, until the final chapter.

And that's all for today! Now, on to finish the week's work and get ready for camping. Hmmm...must get some more books!

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