Archive for the ‘reading’ Tag

Libraries and Adventures   Leave a comment

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Cloud Cuckoo Land may be the looniest book title I’ve heard of. Nonetheless, it’s Anthony Doerr’s most recent, aptly-named novel. This epic work traverses centuries and locales; it’s about five children, books and the importance of libraries in their lives and throughout time.

Anna is an orphan in Constantinople; Omeir is a village boy in the same era. Zeno and Seymour are from Idaho living in the 2000s; and Konstance lives on an interstellar ship. Some them converge, and they’re not the ones readers might expect.

Libraries could, collectively, be a sixth character. They serve as gathering places for four of the five to learn about their individual worlds. A Greek book ties everything together. It’s the namesake of this narrative and a story within the main story.

Each section expands on the ancient tale of Cloud Cuckoo Land wherein a man is turned into an ass. His efforts to regain his human self result in a far-fetched adventure with a potent moral.

At 600+pages, some might consider this to be a daunting undertaking. Yet, it’s worth reading every word. The characters age and not all for the better; the paths they pursue, often driven by information gleaned from their respective library visits or exposure to the Greek story, are ones easily imaginable despite the different settings.

Doerr has crafted a rich and vivid narrative through empathy, tension and curiosity. It’s a given the different eras and places will make sense. How it occurs is captivating.

Cloud Cuckoo Land

Five Bookmarks

Scribner, 2021

626 pages



What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund is a series of visual sound-bites and the result is a lack of substance.

Granted, Mendelsund is a book cover designer and art director; it makes sense he’s interested in the visual aspects. My initial impression was the author would focus on what the imagination conjures as we read. This is not the case; Mendelsund argues authors do not give readers enough information to complete pictures in our minds.

Through a series of references to Moby Dick, Anna Karenina and To the Lighthouse, along with a few other titles, Mendelsund maintains it’s impossible to see characters the same way the writer does. The content is comprised of numerous graphics and limited text. This includes one word on a page, single sentences, a hodgepodge of visual images, brief paragraphs, pages with terms crossed out and an assortment of illustrations, both familiar and not.

The fact that everything, from the cover to the illustrations is in black and white further emphasizes the author’s premise: readers do not get to know a novel’s characters in a true and intimate way. Frankly, I don’t buy it.

Reading is personal even if a book has universal appeal. Granted, my image of Ishmael  may be different from someone else’s, but is that a bad thing? When I see a movie based on a book I am almost always disappointed. Why? Partly because the characters in the film are not the way I saw them on the page.

What We See When We Read

Two-and-a-half Bookmarks

Vintage Books, 2014

419 pages

Three’s a Charm   5 comments


Thanks WordPress for letting me know this is our third anniversary. I don’t have a book or restaurant to review right now, but I did make my 275th post earlier this week.

The traditional gift to commemorate three years is leather. Hhmmm. Sounds like I need to get a book to celebrate!

Thanks WordPress, but more importantly, thank you readers! It’s nice to know I have followers who aren’t related to me, although I am very grateful to those who are for being so consistent in your love and support. I’ll keep writing and I hope you’ll keep reading. Here’s to three more — at least!

A Book Blind Date   Leave a comment


As I was leaving my neighborhood library, the Old Colorado City Branch of the Pikes Peak Library District, two shelves with books wrapped in newspaper caught my eye. They were near the backdoor in what seemed an out of the way location for a holiday display, although I realized it’s far too early to be in that mindset. Then I saw the sign: “Blind Date With A Book.”


The concept is to check out a wrapped book without knowing its title. I was intrigued. I picked up a couple of books/packages in much the same way I’d consider which gift to open first on my birthday or Christmas. Did I really want to commit to something I knew absolutely nothing about? What if it was one I’d already read?  Yet, in a way, starting a book is very similar to a blind date anyway; there’s always a sense of the unknown, of possibilities and disappointments.

I considered another blind date. It’s how I met my husband, and that’s turned out very well. So, I decided to take my chances.  I was paired with Now and Forever by Ray Bradbury. I haven’t read anything by Bradbury since my high school days, but this book contains two previously unpublished novellas: Somewhere a Band is Playing and Leviathian ’99.

I laughed when I opened book. It was dedicated to two women, which didn’t strike me as a very auspicious way to begin a date.

I’ll review the date, I mean, the novellas in a separate post.

Midlife Journeys — A Memoir   Leave a comment


Living Out Answers – Twelve Trips of a Lifetime by Dave Jackson, is one of two indie books I recently read for pleasure (others I read for one of my few paid writing gigs). In the interest of full disclosure: I almost know the author. We’ve never met, but Jackson’s the father of a good friend who gave me the book as a gift.

This is a memoir based on trips, yup 12 of them, that he began taking when he turned 50 in 1979. He kept journals of the adventures which are the book’s foundation supplemented by recent afterthoughts. The trips include finding a way to spend time on the Mississippi River, to working for a circus, to learning about coal mines in West Virginia, along with nine others. He hitchhiked, hopped trains, hiked, rode in the cabs of big rigs and developed sea legs on boats.

Nearly as interesting is how the book evolved: Jackson’s granddaughter was prompted by a photo which led to discussions about the travels. Others entered the picture offering advice and encouragement. Although the book became a family endeavor of sorts, the stories are Jackson’s.

Jackson embraced the new opportunities and experiences no matter how exciting, frustrating or unpleasant, but there was always the safety net of a comfortable lifestyle awaiting him after each exploit. What’s most impressive is that Jackson made these journeys at a point in his life where many think self-reflection is either unnecessary or inconvenient. He demonstrates neither is the case.

Living Out Answers – Twelve Trips of a Lifetime

Three and a half bookmarks
Brokey’s, 2012
281 pages

The Very Model of a Proper English Novel   Leave a comment

Major Pettigrew
Easy to visualize characters, plots driven by class conflict, issues of the heart (or both) and a very proper sense of, well, what’s proper are what make English Lit so appealing to me. Yes, the above could easily refer to classic British literature, but it also applies to Helen Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand – a very contemporary work.

Simonson’s novel begins with a chance meeting between the Major (his first name is Ernest, while apt doesn’t fit him as snugly as his military title) and Mrs. Jasmina Ali, a Pakistani shopkeeper. Although their paths have crossed in the past, this encounter comes at a vulnerable point in the Major’s life: he’s just learned of his brother’s death. What follows is the evolution of a friendship based on a passion for books and widowhood.

Both characters are thoroughly engaging. The Major in his stilted, decorous yet sensitive manner has appeal, and Mrs. Ali is an exceptionally intelligent woman burdened by a certain sadness associated with being considered an outsider in her home country. Simonson portrays people we know or would like to; they’re well-defined individuals with foibles, principles and dreams. The cast of lesser characters, including Roger, the Major’s obnoxious status-seeking son, enhance the story.

The novel moves at a leisurely pace as the Major and Mrs. Ali embark on a relationship that puts a spark in their step and ultimately has tongues wagging throughout the village. Simonson clearly enjoys thumbing her nose at what’s considered suitable or not.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
Four Bookmarks
Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2011
358 pages (not including the Reader’s Guide)

Mother’s Pride, Indulge Me (Please)   11 comments


When our boys were little, and not so little, we read to them. Often, that wasn’t enough for our middle son, Tim, who insisted on a special story as he was tucked into bed each night. These were the Tim Stories, and each one always began the same way: Once upon a time there was a little boy named Tim whose parents loved him very much…

I don’t remember when the Tim Stories stopped, but the reading aloud continued for many, many years. We read at night. We read in the car on road trips. We read on camping trips, in tents when it rained or by the campfire with the help of a flashlight when it was clear. We read series written by C.S. Lewis, Lemony Snicket and J.K. Rowlands. Heck, we had a book we read during dinner for a while. It was a fun one about manners (Do I have to Say Hello by Delia Ephron). We read a lot out loud.

Reading has always been hard for Tim. Although he struggled with it in school, he developed some great strategies. He is an excellent listener, he discovered books on tape, and he learned to ask questions for clarification, for help. He studied with tutors. He worked more than his brothers, harder than his friends or anyone else around.

This week Tim graduates from college — early. And, he still knows a good story when he hears one: Once upon a time there was a young man named Tim whose parents love him very much…

Enjoying Margaret Atwood — For a Change   1 comment

Usually, I’m not  a Margaret Atwood fan. She makes it so difficult, through depressing stories and odd characterizations, to appreciate her wit, imagery and intellect. Reluctantly, I read The Year of the Flood. It was the choice for my book group, and the All Pikes Peak Reads 2012 selection. As part of the APPR festivities, Atwood spoke about sustainability and survival: two prevalent themes in her works.

Surprisingly, once I started reading I was anxious to continue. Although Atwood dismisses claims The Year of the Flood is a post-apocalyptic tale, nothing better describes it. The story takes place in a time when mutations, genetic engineering and an order of fear prevail. The flood refers to an unknown deluge caused by man’s errors and destructive predispositions. It is not a natural phenomenon; it’s a “waterless flood.”

God’s Gardeners is a small cult with a foundation in Christianity that celebrates the lives of such people as Rachel Carson and Euell Gibbons, among others, for the contributions they made to saving the environment. The Gardeners strive to protect nature and prepare for (and later survive) the flood. Within the cult, Toby and Ren, represent maturity and youth, respectively. Their narratives move the story forward. Atwood said she purposely incorporates multiple voices in her works because “I don’t like everyone to sound the same.” Toby is represented in third person, while Ren offers a first person perspective. The sermons of Adam One, the Gardeners’ leader,  begin each chapter using second person voice.

I’m glad I read this and even more pleased to have heard Atwood speak. It provided insight into her work, but mostly served to demonstrate her keen sense of humor, which fortunately surfaces in this novel. A novel, by the way, which has, as Atwood stated, “A ray of hope.”

The Year of the Flood
Four Bookmarks
Anchor Books, 2009
431 pages

God, Golf, and Growth   3 comments

I am not sure I would have chosen Corinthia Falls off the bookshelf on my own,
but I volunteered to judge a competition. Kim Hutson’s book is what I received in
the mail, along with a list of reading criteria. It was entered in the Fiction Category,
but that should’ve been amended to Christian Fiction. There’s nothing wrong with
that genre, I just think it warrants a heads up. Or maybe I should have paid more
attention to the photo of a church on the cover.

The book gets its name from the small town in Oklahoma where most of the story
takes place. The first two-thirds is narrated by 18-year-old Timber Oaks who has a
strong sense of faith, a group of best friends, loving parents, and an impressive golf
game. The town is full of the requisite eccentric characters, many of whom initially
don’t get along. An itinerant evangelist arrives to help the Corinthia Falls Church,
the townspeople, and Timber fully realize the presence of God in their lives.

The book’s final third begins 30 years after Timber’s narrative ends. Priscilla Luke,
a long-time journalist and, as it turns out, Oaks’ family friend takes over as narra-
tor. This change in voice is interesting. Pris brings the reader up to date on the
major changes many of the characters have experienced, and tells Timber’s story
from the outside looking in.

Some editing and grammar issues distract from what is otherwise a story strong on
faith with occasional lapses in believability.

Corinthia Falls

Three Bookmarks
Outskirts Press, 2011
404 pages

Sorry for the delay in posting, but the wildfire here in Colorado Springs was a major distraction this weekend. We still need some rain.

Posted June 24, 2012 by bluepagespecial in Books, Reviews

Tagged with , , , , , ,

Parenting Without Boundaries   2 comments

If you read Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin be sure you have
someone with whom you can talk about it.

This disturbing, yet compelling, story unfolds through a series of letters written by
Eva to her absent husband, Franklin. The purpose of the letters is to try to under-
stand how their 15-year-old son, Kevin, could murder seven classmates, a teacher,
and a school cafeteria worker.

Through a clear almost detached, yet very personal, perspective Eva expresses the
difficulty she has in relinquishing her independence to become a mother. Following
Kevin’s birth, she continues to lack a natural maternal instinct. Still, Eva is not
without heartfelt emotion and empathy; she simply has difficulty showing these traits
to Kevin.

On the other hand, neither is Franklin completely blameless; although his side of the
story is not told. As seen through Eva’s eyes, Franklin maintains a vise-like grip on
the image of a happy, American family. His perception does not include discipline,
respect to others, or a recognition that there are two sides to every story.

Kevin is simply a bad kid, albeit an exceptionally bright one. The concept of uncon-
ditional love falters under Shriver’s pen. Parents are bound to examine their parent-
ing style and question whether it is the right approach. It is easy to be critical of
Eva and Franklin, but it’s hard to know if anyone else could have parented Kevin with
a different outcome.

We Need to Talk About Kevin
Three Bookmarks
HarperCollins, 2006
432 pages

(I wrote this review several years ago, but decided to post it here.)