Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Circle

The Circle, by Dave Eggers
The CircleAn excellent choice for a book group discussion, The Circle is like a 1984, updated to the Internet age.

Young Mae Holland is thrilled to land a job at The Circle, which is like a combination Facebook/Google...a company for the cool kids. As a main character, she falls a little flat. She's unlikable and no reader could affirm the choices she makes in her life, especially as the story progresses. She is completely desperate for attention and selfish.

But this book is not so much about character development as it is biting satire and a parable for our like-and-tweet-obsessed, voyeuristic culture. As each of The Circle's projects are unveiled, what initially sounds like a good, democratic, society-improving idea turns out to be creepy and sinister, reducing any shred of privacy we have left. Life = work, and work = life. And nothing is secret any more, anywhere.

This book made me question the time I spend on the Internet and how I too have gotten sucked into wanting "likes" or shares. It's about our need for instant gratification, coupled with our desire to know everything about everyone. Sinister and thought-provoking. I recommend it.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Rose Under Fire

Rose Under Fire (Code Name Verity, #2)Rose Under Fire, by Elizabeth Wein

By the author of my #1 favorite last year Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire is another novel set in World War II illustrating soul-deep friendships among women. One of the main characters in Code Name Verity appears in Rose Under Fire, but as more of a minor character.

Rose is an American ATA pilot and poet who gets captured by the Nazis and deposited in Ravensbruck, where she befriends Russian, French, and Polish women. She is especially drawn to the "Rabbits," the Polish women who were the subjects of the Nazis' horrific medical experiments.

It's the kind of book that makes you wonder what you would do if you were in similar, horrifying circumstances.

This book focuses more on the Christians and political prisoners in the concentration camps and not as much on the genocide of the Jews...a story that is not as likely to be told.

I didn't love it as much as Code Name Verity, but that book set a high bar...and like that other book, I stayed up into the wee hours to finish it. That is truly the sign of an excellent book!

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen

The Lost Memoirs of Jane AustenThe Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, by Syrie James

Jane Austen imitators abound, especially in recent years, and I am a bit of a snob about them. I found Death Comes to Pemberley by the great P.D. James to be disappointing, for example. So I was surprised by how much I enjoyed The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen.

I've always enjoyed epistolary novels, so that helps. This book purports to be Austen's lost memoirs and tells about her unrequited great romance. I enjoyed the way she described her close relationship with her sister Cassandra and also her independence.

Based on what actually happened, Syrie James fills in the gaps and takes literary license to create a suitor for the intelligent and lively Jane. I recommend it for Jane Austen lovers!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Believing Cassandra

Believing Cassandra: An Optimist Looks at a Pessimist's World, by Alan AtKisson

As a sustainability communicator, I'm glad I read this book at last. It came highly recommended from my friend and our company's sustainability director. Even though I read the first edition (published several years ago), the concepts are ever fresh.

Alan AtKisson is a true optimist at heart. He reminds us about the Greek myth about Cassandra, who was blessed with the gift of prophecy but cursed because no one would believe the truth she had to share. Can you imagine how that would feel?

And that is the essence of how we need to communicate about the perils facing our planet. When we preach doom and gloom, it's easy for people to turn us off and believe that nothing they can do can possibly help (I often find myself feeling the same way!).

AtKisson has been working in sustainability since 1988 and in 2013 he was inducted into the Sustainability Hall of Fame. Believing Cassandra was his first book, in which he shares how he got into the field along with personal stories of his life's journey, interspersed with data and anecdotes about what people are doing around the world to combat climate change.

His aim is to give hope, and for all of us to find a way to be optimistic about the challenges facing our world. He urges us to break Cassandra's curse by giving people a reason to hope instead of letting the doomsayers take over the messaging. Because if that happens, no one will listen.

This book has already helped me transform my thinking about how to communicate about sustainability, especially to those people who are unconvinced of the need to turn the tide.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Glass Castle

The Glass CastleThe Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls

I first read The Glass Castle soon after it was published in 2006, but as I wrote in my review for another of Walls' books, Half Broke Horses, my book group chose it for March. I loved Half Broke Horses so much that I decided to read The Glass Castle once again!

The story opens with Walls, aged 3, starting a kitchen fire and getting third-degree burns because she was cooking hot dogs and her dress caught fire. At age 3. Hospitalized for several weeks, her parents take her out of the hospital before she has fully healed and has been discharged. And she's right back to cooking hot dogs at the stove, because that's what her parents tell her to do.

Rose Mary Walls (Jeannette's mother) had been raised to be independent, but she took that to an entirely different level. Probably bipolar, Rose Mary wanted to spend all her time making art, not raising children. So the children had to raise themselves. They didn't get groceries for weeks at a time...because Jeannette's dad Rex drank away any money they had, and Rose Mary couldn't be bothered to find a way to feed the kids.

Nomads and rebels, Jeannette's parents took their kids all around the country, and they would flee towns in the middle of the night when her parents were unable to pay their debts. They slept in cardboard boxes and peed and pooped in a hole in the ground until it overflowed.

This book has so many shocking's unfathomable that her parents would think how they raised their children was okay...but alcoholism and mental illness will do that. All three of the Walls children got out as soon as they could.

Now Walls' mother lives on her property in Virginia (you can get a glimpse of her mom in this youtube video). She is a hoarder, to no one's surprise. Even though her parents provided very little stability in her life, it's clear that Jeannette had a deep, complicated love for both of them.