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Archive for the ‘Bloomsbury’ Tag

The Never-setting, Always-rising Sun   Leave a comment

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In The Sunlit Night by Rebecca Dinerstein, the never-setting sun has such a significant role that it’s practically a character alongside almost-18-year-old Yasha and 21-year-old Frances. These are not star-crossed lovers; in fact, they’re quite lucky. Their story begins with the two in New York City. They don’t meet until circumstances put them on a small island in the Norwegian Sea near the Arctic Circle.

Initially, the chapters alternate between Frances and Yasha’s voices. Eventually, they merge into one. Dinerstein evokes a strong sense of place in the isolated far north as the two find each other. As with any love story, there are obstacles including dysfunctional families, complicated backstories and quirky sub-characters.

Frances leaves Manhattan for a Norwegian artist’s community. Yasha arrives soon after to fulfill his father’s dream. Perhaps the most engaging part of the narrative is the life Yasha and his father have running their bakery in Brighton Beach. This is something they’ve done since immigrating from Russia 10 years earlier. Yasha’s mother, Olyana, was to join them; years pass and the family is never reunited.

Still, Olyana is among those in the quirky classification (it’s actually a long list). She’s an important part of the story, not only because she’s the mother of a protagonist but because of her lengthy absence as such. Meanwhile, Frances has family issues of her own. Among other things, her eccentric parents are separating.

Dinerstein injects humor with captivating prose to create something more than a tale of young love.

The Sunlit Night
Not-quite-four Bookmarks
Bloomsbury, 2015
249 pages

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The Confessions of Frances Godwin   Leave a comment

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Our youngest son recently graduated from Knox College; I’d been vaguely aware of it years before because of Sixteen Pleasures, a book I enjoyed for its setting (Florence, Italy) and strong female narrator. This same son gave me an autographed copy of Hellenga’s most recent work, The Confessions of Frances Godwin, which had been languishing on my nightstand far too long.

The setting is mostly Galesburg, Ill., with Knox figuring prominently; other locales include Milwaukee, Rome and Verona. With Frances, Hellenga introduces another female narrator. I admit I’m intrigued by his ability to create such true female voices.

It’s 2006 and Frances has retired from a career as a high school Latin teacher. At first, the novel appears to be a vehicle for her to reflect on her past because she soon recounts how she met her husband, Paul, a Shakespeare scholar from whom she took classes (at Knox). She tells of their affair, their eventual marriage and life together in Galesburg. They have a daughter, Stella, who as a grown woman appears to make a series of bad choices when it comes to men.

The story is occasionally heavy handed. Consider, Frances’ name: Godwin. Several times, she converses with God, who, among other things, entreats her to go to confession. By this point it’s clear that she does have more than a few things to own up to.

Love and guilt are not unusual companions; for Frances, they’re a large part of who she is.

The Confessions of Frances Godwin
Four Bookmarks
Bloomsbury, 2014
305 pages

Poetry in the Eye of a Storm   Leave a comment

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Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward is one of those books that once it comes in the front door, makes itself right at home. At first, I was reluctant to let it in. The cover isn’t intriguing and I don’t always appreciate the same books as the friend who recommended this one. Ward’s book, however, is a winning guest. Literally: it’s the 2011 National Book Award Winner.

Fifteen-year-old Esch, her three brothers and frequently-drunk father live in rural coastal Mississippi. The story follows the 12 days leading up to, and including, Hurricane Katrina’s arrival. Despite what appears to be laissez faire parenting, Esch’s father is increasingly concerned about a possible powerful storm making land. In between drinking binges, he tries to ready the family’s ramshackle home.

Told from Esch’s point of view, Ward has crafted a beautifully poetic, heartbreaking story of family love, loyalty and misdirected affection. Esch is an intelligent young woman, but she lives without benefit of another woman’s perspective; her mother died seven years earlier. The only other female around is her brother Skeetah’s pit bull, China.

The impending hurricane and Skeetah’s concern for China are told as parallel accounts. China, bred for fighting, has just given birth to her first litter. Despite their father’s appeals for help to make the house secure, the kids go about their lives as usual: basketball, swimming and hanging out with friends. Even without the storm’s threat, it becomes quickly evident that all is not as carefree as it appears.

Salvage the Bones
Four Bookmarks
Bloomsbury, 2011
258 pages

Extra! Extra! Read All About It   4 comments

A journalism background isn’t necessary to appreciate the points made by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel in their book entitled Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload. Anyone who reads or listens to the news should find this interesting. The authors examine the speed at which information, specifically news, reaches consumers/viewers/readers. Demand for attention from various media is overwhelming in its volume and content.

Plus, since news is disseminated via multiple outlets including Twitter, blogs, newspapers, television, and Facebook — among others — it’s often difficult to know who or what to believe. Consequently, the authors say a healthy dose of skepticism is not a bad trait to possess. The pair outlines a six-step process to help sift through the excessive information to discern fair and accurate reports about the world around us. They suggest asking: “What kind of content am I encountering; Is the information complete, and if not, what is missing; Who or what are the sources, and why should I believe them; What evidence is presented, and how was it tested or vetted; What might be an alternative explanation or understanding; Am I learning what I need to?”

Media literacy is nothing original among journalism scholars, but taking it to the public is. It’s something that benefits the general population. A camera and access to the Internet are all the tools necessary to record and distribute news stories. However, just because everyone can play the game, doesn’t mean everyone plays it well, accurately or fairly.

Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload
Bloomsbury, 2010
203 pages, plus notes and appendix

From Italy to Eternity   3 comments

I love receiving books as gifts, especially when it’s obvious the bearer has
decided it’s something I would particularly enjoy. I try to do the same,
but am not – admittedly – always successful. I’m pleased to say my friend,
Esteban, was on the money in giving me Tracey Lawson’s A Year in the
Village of Eternity.

Lawson writes of food and Italy  (two of my favorite things) and longevity.
The secret to a long life has nothing to do with a fountain of youth. Instead,
it is a cascade of fresh, organic, seasonal food augmented by family, friends
and an active lifestyle. That’s Lawson’s premise as she describes Campodimele,
Italy, where the average life expectancy, for men and women, is 95 years!

Lawson provides a month-by-month account of a year in Campodimele, thus
sharing seasonal experiences that coincide with weather, festivals, crops and
food preparation. The village is located between Rome and Naples in the
mountains above the Tyrrhenian coast. The focus is on the people, individuals
who shared their kitchens, produce and recipes, but it’s their lifestyle that is
particularly intriguing. Numerous studies have been conducted linking longe-
vity to the Campomelano diet which is low in salt, includes moderate amounts
of wine, and is  full of protein-rich beans, fish and chicken. All this in addition
to fresh produce, which is canned, dried or otherwise preserved to last through-
out the year.

A bonus, besides Lawson’s vivid, sensual imagery of the landscape, people and
meals, is the collection of photographs and recipes.

A Year in the Village of Eternity
Three and a half Bookmarks
Bloomsbury, 2011
374 pages