Right before the first of the year I stumbled across an interview with two-term poet laureate of the United States, Billy Collins. In it he referred to poetry as "the spinach of literature". I found that quote to be interesting, funny, and, at least for me, entirely true. Spinach is good for you and is also an acquired taste. If I had a choice between spinach and ice cream, I would choose ice cream even though spinach is the better choice. So, in addition to the usual promises one makes at the new year, I decided to make one of my New Year's resolutions to read more spinach, or should I say, poetry.
I felt I owed it to Mr. Collins to start with one of his collections. He was after all my motivation. I chose his newest book, Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems. Aimless Love combines over fifty new poems with selections from four of his previous books. And not only did I read it, but I also listened to him read in on audio CD. It did not disappoint. Ranging from serious to laugh out loud funny his poems are about everyday life and cover a range of emotions. I found them to be conversational and reader friendly.
How are you doing on your New Year's resolutions? It's not too late to add one more. I suggest that you too read your spinach!
It’s always fun to watch a movie and see a neighborhood you’ve lived in or a building you’ve visited. It’s even more fun to recognize geographical goofs—like when Harry and Sally leave from Hyde Park for New York, but are shown driving south on Lake Shore Drive through the City. Hundreds of movies have been filmed in Chicagoland; here’s a list of some of the best, according to Chicago Magazine.
If you are looking for a book that is "un-put-downable, Dave Eggers' The Circle is it! This is the kind of book that you feel compelled to discuss with people--it would be great for a book discussion with its exploration of themes such as privacy and democracy.
Mae Holland is hired to work for a powerful tech company called "the Circle". Imagine if Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Yahoo all merged and became one huge internet company . . . . that's The Circle. As Mae joins the company she is excited and impressed by all the Circle offers like high-tech modern facilities, employee dorms, thematic parties, and even health insurance for her ailing father. It seems to be a utopian workplace. But soon, Mae becomes entrenched in the Circle culture and the launch of new inventions like SeeChange cameras that can be planted anywhere to see what people are doing. Mae also agrees to wear a camera around her neck that provides a live feed of all that she is doing every minute of every day. Political leaders are encouraged to wear these cameras and become transparent as well.
As the novel progresses, the reader is confronted with the idea that all this technological progress doesn't align with personal freedom and privacy. One of the Circle's taglines is " Privacy is Theft." But, what if nothing was private anymore? Is complete transparency the answer? Can technological progress be a bad thing?
If you still haven't placed a hold on Boxers or Saints yet after watching the above clip, I'll try and convince you now. I've only read Saints, but it was so uniquely told, informative, funny and horrifying, that I am eagerly waiting to read Boxers. The Boxer Rebellion occurred in China over 100 years ago and this 2-volume set of graphic novels by Printz award winning author and illustrator Gene Luen Yang, sheds light on the complicated events of this bloody period of the world's past. Yet the genius of this book is that it makes these events that happened such a long time ago seem vivid, understandable and totally engrossing as the author crafts genuinely believable characters, whom the reader ends up caring greatly about their plights.
China at this time was weakened and the government in shambles. European missionaries began to emerge and flex their influence throughout the country and the result was a nationalism-inspired backlash by the 'Boxers' against these 'Saints'.
Bloodshed and chaos ensued.
It all sounds so violent and terrible and certainly at times it is. But the story is filled with humor, as the character's facial expressions are so expressive, including the young teenage protagonist, an unwanted fourth-born daughter named ... (ahem) 'Four Girl'. Four Girl is a Chinese Christian teenager who struggles with her faith. She hatches all types of odd plans to cope with the confusion and turmoil surrounding her, including my favorite plan of hers: in order to be feared and respected, she walks around endlessly with her "devil face" on. This face needs to be seen to be believed and is laugh out loud funny. Four Girl's struggles with her faith and whose side to fight for, come across as gut-wrenching, endearing and are acutely conveyed. Teens, adults should all dive into this amazing work of art.
Winnie the Pooh is not the only character that got his nose caught in the honey jar. Take the background story of Bernie Gunther - before the war started, he was a highly respected homicide investigator in Berlin. Once the Nazis took control, Bernie had to swallow his pride and political beliefs in order to survive. His comfort level went from a possible 10 to well below zero.
Gunther's goal became to stay below the radar of the maniacal regime that was slowly destroying his world. He was forced to wear a uniform and become part of the military machine. He went from being the Berlin Bull to the Wehrmacht Wimp.
In March of 1943, the Wehrmacht High Command sends their prized criminal investigator to Smolensk to verify if thousands of Polish officers were executed and buried in a frozen field. Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda, smells a possible public relations coup. If Goebbels can get proof that the Russians mass-murdered thousands of defenseless enemy officers, the world's spotlight, fixed on the Nazi nation's atrocities, will dim drastically.
The last thing that Gunther wants is to be anywhere near the spotlight. He has positioned himself well offstage and only wants his world back - as it once was. When he lands in Smolensk, no one is happy to see him...not the Germans in command of the invasion force, nor the Russians aiding them. Even the Gestapo resents an "outsider" being assigned to investigate a matter that appears to have no major consequence in the Fatherland conquering Mother Russia.
Resentment leads to murder and cover-up. Gunther is forced to make some difficult decisions to remain breathing; however, he finds time to fall hopelessly in love with one of the forensic team sent to aid his investigation. . .but even that small prize has its steep price tag.
Philip Kerr has written several books in this series. It is not important to read them in order, since the outcome of WWII is well documented. The writing is rich and the characters are complex. If historical fiction is what you are looking for and you haven't tried Kerr yet, it is well worth the experience.
I was looking for a book to snap me out of this never ending winter and an escape to the Wild West seemed like just the fix. The Outcasts is a true, old fashioned western complete with Texas marshals, horse thieves, outlaws, buried treasures, and brothels. From the first chapter I was hooked into the lives of young Nate Cannon, Dr. Tom, and Captain Deerling, lawmen on the hunt for a notorious outlaw. At the center of the story is Lucinda, a young woman who escaped from a brothel and entwined herself with the ruthless outlaw McGill. As the lawmen chase Lucinda and McGill across the bayou, the tale unwinds in dramatic fashion, ending with an epic battle in New Orleans. The gritty novel was an engaging read that sweeps you into a different time.
If you are a fan of historical fiction, Kahtleen Kent has written a two other novels. She is a wonderful storyteller and weaves historical events into the fictional characters’ lives. I will definitely check out her other titles!
HHhH(2012) is the mesmerizing story of Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik, recruited by the British Secret Service to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, also known as " The Butcher of Prague". Heydrich, often called the Architect of the Holocaust, was responsible for the deaths of countless Jews during World War II. French author Laurent Binet has crafted an intricate tale: part historical and part glorious imagination that actualizes this transformative event in the history of the Holocaust.
But there is more to this brilliant narrative than the documentation of this important historical event.Binet's postmodern approach reminds us to be skeptical in our analysis of historical events and to rely on our own clarification of events. His attention to detail and to the maintenance of historical integrity elevate this novel to the status of a postmodern classic.
This story digs deeply into historical significance while maintaining the suspicious eye of an author writing in a postmodern, post-9/11 world. The writing is engrossing, elegant and graceful, and the thrilling narrative will keep you interested till the end. We can only hope that Laurent Binet will continue to delight us with his exquisite storytelling skills.
It has been awhile since I read and enjoyed the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books by Alexander McCall Smith, so a few weeks ago when I stumbled upon Trains and Lovers, one of his newer stand alone novels, I thought I'd give it a try.
The story follows four strangers traveling by train from Edinburgh to London. They start by sharing polite conversation (with no cell phones or devices in sight) and eventually each share a story of how a train or train travel had an effect on their lives. A young Scotsman tells of meeting a young woman while working as an intern and an image of a train in a piece of art. An Englishman shares the story of getting off at the wrong stop during a business trip and impulsively asking a mysterious woman to dinner. An Australian woman shares how her parents met and ran a station in the Australian Outback. An American male sees two men saying good-bye and recalls a relationship from long ago.
I find McCall Smith to be a wonderful storyteller who's clear and simple style moves the story along. This was a quick and enjoyable read on a cold winter day.
One year after the JFK assassination a rash of suspicious suicides catch the attention of Chicago P.I Nathan Heller.
When he and his son are almost run down Nathan teams up with famous columnist Flo Kilgore to investigate.
The suicides aren't what they seem and lead to LBJ's henchman Mac Wallace and New Orleans mafia kingpin, Carlos Marcello.
Bobby Kennedy gives Nathan the go ahead to investigate and how it may tie in to the failed Mongoose operation to kill Fidel Castro.
If you are intrigued by the Amanda Knox trial and ongoing saga like I am, then Cartwheel is the book for you. The novel, written by Jennifer DuBois, is a fictional account loosely based on the Amanda Knox story. In Cartwheel, Lily is studying abroad in Argentina when she discovers her roommate has been murdered and Lily becomes the prime suspect. What unravels is a compelling story and deep character descriptions told from several points, including Lily’s divorced parents, her wealthy recluse boyfriend, and the prosecutor in the case.
Like the Amanda Knox story, you never quite know if Lily is truly innocent. Her bizarre behavior in the aftermath of the murder, including doing a cartwheel after her interrogation, leads you to question her innocence. Is she guilty of murder or is she just a naive young woman who doesn’t understand the consequences of her actions? As her sister Anna says, she has always been “weird”. As the story unfolds you become entranced with the characters’ lives and relive the events leading up to the murder. It is an intriguing look at how interpretations of actions and behaviors can make someone look guilty of murder.
In case you are interested, here is the link to the most recent twist in the Amanda Knox trial.