Books

Wish I Could Write Like Etgar Keret

I just finished The Seven Good Years: A Memoir by Etgar Keret. It was a pleasure to read. I may reread one of the short essays each time I sit down to write. It is a wonderful reminder that clean, simple prose can be as compelling as convoluted sentences laden with adjectives. 

I discovered Keret as an author very recently from his interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air. (August 5, 2016 podcast). Definitely worth a listen.

One of the most unexpected stories was about a Polish architect building him a house in-between two buildings--a scant 47 inches wide. It is one of life's funny mysteries that this architect was inspired by Keret's writing to create a house at the location where his mother smuggled food into the Jewish ghetto during Nazi occupation. And by naming it the Keret House ensured their family name would not be wiped from Polish history afterall.

The Summer Before the War is Terrific

 Helen Simonson meets expectations with second novel.

Helen Simonson meets expectations with second novel.

 I reserved this book from the public library because I enjoyed Helen Simonson's first book, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, so much. I figured The Summer Before the War had a good chance of being good. It is terrific.

In the beginning of the year, when I discovered a book of WWI poetry in Australia, I read many of the poems that inspired Simonson's second novel. The story is moved forward by Hugh, a recently qualified surgeon, and his cousin Daniel, a poet. Enter into their life a new village schoolteacher Beatrice. Their friendship grows as the war begins with the Prussian invasion of Belgium. 

Simonson draws a portrait of village life and stock village personalities while developing a compelling love story and the development of her characters under the pressure of war. Her prose drew me in from the first chapter and I spent most of today finishing the novel. 

The conclusion is very satisfying. I especially like Daniel's last conversation with Hugh in France. The struggles facing Beatrice in a society that still constricts women is painful to read about, and I had mixed feelings as she wanted her independence and yet clearly a good marriage would save her much grief. There are some hard parts to read when Lord North, a Brigadier General, lets his cruelty run unchecked against his own men and a dog. 

I highly recommend reading this book for a satisfying weekend.

Relish Grantchester with Podcast

I am celebrating the return of Grantchester. Season 2 is excellent so far. Five episodes in and the story arc of Geordie and Sidney's friendship. Plus Sidney's turbulent love life continues to provide subplots. Then there are the delightful fellow residents at the vicarage: Mrs. MacGuire, Leonard and Dickens.

If you want to enjoy this terrific mystery series on Masterpiece even more, then listen to the new Masterpiece podcast on iTunes or Stitcher. There are interviews with the cast and with the Grantchester creator James Runcie. 

There are more books by Runcie than the two I found last year when Grantchester first came out. I plan to look for them when I am in London in a few weeks.

The last episode of Season 2 is this Sunday night on PBS, or available for purchase on Google Play and iTunes. Check it out.

Adelaide's Downton Abbey: Ayer's House

I have been moving my home and office since I got back from New Zealand, so I am behind on blogging about my trip. I cannot help but notice that all US social media is leaving a little space (after election coverage) to talk about the last episode of Downton Abbey airing on PBS this Sunday evening. The season traditionally ends with a Christmas episode that plays on Christmas Day in England.--obviously delayed in the USA. I bought Season 6 on Google Play so I have already seen the conclusion and I will not spoil it.

It did make me think about Adelaide's equivalent of Downton Abbey: Ayer's House.

Growing up in California I can relate to places like Adelaide, South Australia. The sprung up, new fortune, scratch-a-community-out-of-the-bush feeling is one I know well. Whether it is a gold rush or agricultural land rush, the place history is not very old and the challenges of creating a "showplace" home to create status in a brand new community is familiar. When I walked up the circular drive to Ayer's House in Adelaide it felt like a mansion in Grass Valley of another mining tycoon.

This particular tycoon, Henry Ayers, exaggerated his work experience. He was an office clerk but he claimed other skills so he could get a subsidy to emigrate to Adelaide with his wife Anna. He did well with the Burra Burra mines and ultimately served as the Premiere of South Australia five times between 1863 and 1873. He built a huge house in downtown Adelaide near the Botanic Garden. Even now it is gracious.

I went to see it because I saw a flyer on the bookshop window advertising the exhibit of costumes from Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries. I have watched all of the episodes on Netflix and the costumes depicting a wealthy feminist detective and her entourage solving mysteries. Sometimes with television I am disappointed with the reality of a set or costume because the camera can fool you. These costumes are the real deal--recreated couture to emulate the roaring 20's. 

I was ready to join the enthusiast crowd of women who sew or craft to go through the exhibit, but first I stopped and spoke with the docent at the front door. It was he who told me about Henry Ayers and why the house is worth a look even when there is not a fashion display in every room.  

To make it more interesting, the museum staff also created a bit of a whodunit to solve while you walked through the rooms. I did not need anymore entertainment as I was completely enraptured with the clothes themselves. Beautifully made from exquisite fabrics, I enjoyed talking to other women who sew about where they source fabric and how hard it is to find. We all laughed because even though we were from USA and Australia, both of our mothers used to look at a garment in the department store and say the equivalent of "You could make it yourself for less." Now it is quite the opposite. No one can say they are sewing to be thrifty. 

This gives full permission to sew as a creative expression. Many of these garments are impractical and designed and executed as a celebration of beauty.

The show, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, is based on Australian author Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher book series. I have looked for them in the US and have not found them. The gift shop had a new copy of the first in the series Cocaine Blues. I bought it for my Mom. Then when I found a secondhand bookshop at the Central Market I was able to pick up quite a few more in the series. My Mom read them first and now I am reading them. They are not as complex as say Robert Galbraith's Cormoran Strike series, but neither do you have to worry about gore or upsetting physical violence.  I hope Ms. Greenwood makes her books available electronically in the USA so more people can enjoy them. 

If you are interested in fashion that pushes the envelope and is inspiring and beautiful, the check out WOW! The World of Wearable Art dates for 2016 are September 11-October 9 in Wellington, New Zealand. Tickets are available here.

This blog is reposted from AmericanJulie.com. 

Wayward Inspiring in Multiple Ways

I bought Wayward, a slim collection of travel blogs by Tom Gates, inspires in a couple of ways. First, the obvious, it makes me want to travel even more. Although a few of the essays from Asia or Pacific Islands remind me why I like to spend a little more on hotels when I travel. 

I like his snarky, less-is-more style. The narrative is raw at times, and so is travel. He has had numerous careers and his travel writing career started with the Matador Network. Matador has a lot of great articles and resources on their website. 

I am passing this book on to my son's friend Liz who is embarking on a year of travel (coincidentally starting on my birthday). 

I also find the style of publication interesting from an independent publisher point of view. I found this book in Powell's travel section. It can also be downloaded in Kindle. 

 

Encountering Nadia Bolz-Weber

My friend Jen invited me to visit Pasadena and hear Reverend Nadia Bolz-Weber speak at her Episcopal church. I had not heard of Nadia and I had too much travel already on my books. 

Then I heard her interviewed on National Public Radio and I was intrigued enough to buy her book, Accidental Saints. I started reading it an essay a day so I could take it in and think it over before reading the next essay. I finished the book by reading several essays a day. 

Her writing (and presumably preaching style) is raw and real. She is vulnerable in a way that most Christian writers are not willing to be. It is a saccharin and overly nice genre. 

I related to several of the essays. Especially her commentary on the Rapture hoax, "A Thief in the Night." I grew up in the height of the excitement over the Rapture. I remember in Junior High reading the pop theology books and fiction that played on Cold War fears. If I am generous I can attribute the authors' motives to a desire for my salvation, misguided as they were. Their nonsense, all based on an interpretation on one verse, had so many unintended negative impacts on me and others. 

This theme resurfaced in the essay "Dirty Feet," where Nadia Bolz-Weber tackles worthiness and grace. We do not earn God's love. Jesus washed the disciple's feet (i.e. loved them) even in their imperfection. Thinking of it another way--the disciples did not prewash their feet to be worthy of Jesus love. I have a tendency to stay stuck in a shame story of "I am unworthy" that I can trace back to the teaching I internalized in my teens. 

One of the hardest essays to read, "The Slaughter of the Holy Innocents of Sandy Hook Elementary," delivers a much needed punch to the distorted Advent season that most Christians celebrate. Bring Herod back to Christmas. Or replace Harrods with Herod. 

I do not know what to think of a celebrity pastor. It ought to be an oxymoron. At the same time, I would be sorry not to be able to read her essays just because I do not live close enough to Denver to attend her church. 

4 Visions of Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock.jpeg

I enjoy almost all things Sherlock Holmes. The creme de la creme is the Benedict Cumberbatch version of Sherlock. Alas the next new episode is not scheduled until mid-2016. In the meantime I have been sampling other Sherlock interpretations.

There is the CBS television series Elementary. I like the actors and it is well written. It is not as brilliantly plotted as the PBS version. After 3 seasons I am tiring of it.

Another approach is to introduce new characters. Another PBS production, Arthur and George, focuses on Sir Arthur Canon Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, as a detective. I watched it on-line and found it very dark. Literally dark, as in hard to see. And unnecessarily convoluted. It did not satisfy.

Another recent discovery is the Mary Russell mystery novel series by Laurie R. King. She has created a character who meets a retired Sherlock Holmes as a 15 year old and becomes his apprentice. Mary has a similarly brilliant mind. There are a great many books in the series and I have only read 3 so far. My mom has read all of them and cannot wait until Ms. King writes another one.  

Elizabeth Gilbert Cubed

Elizabeth Gilbert found her voice whilst living out the year that became her memoir Eat, Pray, Love. I read the book just before it became a phenomenon and enjoyed it. I recommended it to others.

My enthusiasm flagged as people made a bigger fuss over the memoir and its author. It turned me off Committed, another memoir. The book jacket shouted "over sharing". 

Then I listened to Rob Bell's podcast interview with Elizabeth Gilbert and I was intrigued enough to read her novel Signature of All Things. I enjoyed it and had to admit she is a committed creative artist. And better than her memoir. 

She talked about her upcoming book Big Magic with Rob Bell. The name was a turn off. Mind you, I love Harry Potter. I am not a fan of California Woo Woo and it struck me as silly. Again I had to reevaluate because of a podcast.


This time Elizabeth Gilbert interviewed Brene Brown on the podcast Magic Lessons. Ultimately I listened to all 12 episodes of Magic Lessons on Stitcher and read Big Magic.

This book will be interesting to people pursuing a creative life. FIrst, it was refreshing to discover that Elizabeth Gilbert does not think writing is all about inspiration. She advocates for lots of perspiration and recommends not pressuring your creative life with the expectation that it support you financially. If it does, celebrate. 

She also repeatedly advocates not taking your art too seriously. "There's probably never going to be any such thing in your life or mine as "an arts emergency." That being the case, why not make art?"

I also appreciated her stories of how she sometimes choose to leave flaws in her novels because it is important to finish. 

The final idea that I want to try is the idea she shared on her podcast of the "15 minute affair." The idea is that if you are crazy in love you will find even 15 minutes to make-out with your lover. So be as in love with your art, even if it means just 15 minutes of writing or painting. 

Brene Brown Trilogy Finishes Strong

Brene Brown's Rising Strong is a much needed addition to her two previous books on the impact of shame and living wholeheartedly. Because if you choose to live wholeheartedly you will inevitably end up face down in the dirt wondering what happened. And this book tells you how to get out from under the shame rock, recover, and rise strong.

I also really appreciate the brief recap of The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly at the end of this book. You may need a refresher if you are already a fan. And the author gives a very considerate assist to those who may be coming to her work for the first time through this book. 

Buy it in hard copy so you can pass it on. 

For more on my personal leadership lessons learned while reading Rising Strong. check out leaderscompass.org.

Read Ross Poldark, Watch Poldark on PBS.org

Aidan Turner Poldark.jpg

I missed the first Poldark BBC production and was not sure if I would watch this one. But 5 minutes in and I was hooked. Aiden Turner is certainly the primary reason. Easy on the eyes with a wide range of emotion. He is mesmerizing--even when he is not swinging a scythe. 

I am miserable when the Masterpiece series is spread out over several weeks. In college I got hooked on the first BBC production of Pride and Prejudice and I went to the USC college library and checked out P&P. I read the book as quickly as possible to know the ending. Within a few weeks I read all of Jane Austen. Similarly I ordered the first two of Winston Graham's books in the Poldark series. 

Ross Poldark is the source material for the television production Poldark. I ordered the book from my neighborhood store Time Tested Books. I devoured it over the weekend. I must say that I like the Ross in the book better than the Heathcliff inspired television version. Ross in the book laughed and smiled more. 

Then I watched episode 3 and my objections dissolved. Aiden Turner is just so wonderful to watch. There are also many of my favorite stock British actors giving their usual strong performances.

The second book is Demelza for Ross' wife ne kitchen wench.  I skimmed it as it will be the basis of season 2 and I will reread it when the next installment of Poldark comes out from Masterpiece. I must say I much prefer Winston Graham's writing style to Diana Gabaldan's Outlander series. I also prefer the more PG-13 Masterpiece presentation to STARZ soft porn.

Final note: the podcast Satellite Sisters does a super fun recap of Poldark each Tuesday, which they call "Pol Dark and Handsome." Please listen in a place where you can laugh out loud.

What Are You Reading?

I have been on a book buying splurge since my recent visit to Powell's. I have read quite a few non-fiction and fiction books and yet I still have piles all around my computer. I am doing my best to pass books I have finished to others who will enjoy them or to the used bookstore. 

At the same time, I sent a copy of You're The Best by the Satellite Sisters to my satellite sister Carole. Surprise! She had the same idea and she sent me a copy! Very fun. 

I just finished Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace.  I write more about this on Leader's Compass blog. I recommend this for people who are interested in how to create positive work cultures, and for anyone who enjoys Pixar animated movies, so that is everyone. 

I completed the fourth Mary Russell mystery, so number 5 O Jerusalem is next by Laurie R. King. I also have read more than half of Nadia Bolz-Weber's Accidental Saints. I really appreciate this perspective on following Christ. 

I am also enjoying more poetry, especially Billy Collins.

I also like gifting books. I am on my way to a baby shower and it is the Chinese Year of the Monkey, so I am giving the new mom Curious George and other monkey related books.

What are you reading? What have you given as a gift?

Haunted by The Goldfinch

Confession time: I have paused on page 561 of 771 (US Paperback by Back Bay Books) of Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch beause I am emotionally spent. I have been on a hell of a ride with Theo Decker, aka Potter. He was dealt a shitty hand in life, and stripped of responsible adults, he has few role models to help him make good choices to turn things around. And the trauma of surviving a terrorist bomb barricades his feelings behind a variety of defenses. 

In the 200 remaining pages I suspect we are going to hurtle to a dramatic climax. I trust the author to tell a good story--she's earned my respect on that score. However, I do not trust she will deliver a happy ending. So I am on so on edge I have to put the book down and listen to some podcasts instead of reading.

Theo is also an addict and I am trying to kick my diet Coke addiction. Sadly his lapses give my saboteurs ammunition. I have to remind myself, "Theo is fictional and his choice to continue to take pills have nothing to do with me!" I have to hush the whiney voice in my head demanding a large diet Coke from McDonalds. 

Finally, it is Father's Day, which I have done my best to ignore since I lost track of where or what my Dad is up to (his choice for over two decades.) This year it has been particularly depressing. Reading about Theo's effed up Dad ought to make me feel a little less alone. Perhaps. Instead it reminds me of the void and this void is full of sadness. 

P.S. Finally I screwed up my courage and finished the story. It was very satisfying and I am glad I did. I also googled "The Goldfinch" and delighted to find there is a real painting