Wednesday, December 21, 2016

There are only four days left until Christmas and if you're scrambling for some last minute gifts, books are the perfect choice.  Here are a few of my favorite reads from 2016, by category:
Summit: A Novel 
by Harry Farthing
A marvelous tale of adventure and murder at the top of the world, Summit is world traveler, explorer, and mountaineer Harry Farthing's first novel. Using Mt. Everest as his centerpiece, Mr. Farthing weaves a skillful plot around well-drawn characters and a fascinating setting.  Whether you are an experienced climber or just love adventure, you won't be able to put this book down.

The Underground Railroad
by Colson Whitehead
Follow Cora on her journey from slavery to freedom, traveling via a real train traveling underground through nineteenth century America. The fictional United States that Mr. Whitehead describes resembles the racially divided United States of the 1800's, then veers off the tracks into a world that requires the reader to suspend belief and accept Whitehead's alternate view.  Very skillfully written and thought provoking, The Underground Railroad is harsh and hopeful at the same time; a must read.

Classic Literature:
Moby Dick
by Herman Melville
Captain Ahab, Ishmael, Queequeg, Stubb, Flask, Tashtego, the Pequod, and of course, Moby Dick.  What other cast of characters in 19th Century literature evokes the vibrant images, the harsh emotions, the colorful sense of place of Melville's Moby Dick?  Reading this book for the second time, I am struck by Melville's attention to detail, the brutality of whaling, the singlemindedness of New England seafarers, and the relentless power of the sea.  Truly the great American adventure novel.

A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life
by Pat Conroy
Our loss this year of the singular Southern writer, Pat Conroy, is mitigated by the vibrancy of his voice in this, his last collection of essays.  On every page you hear the bright tones of his speaking voice, feel the enthusiasm and excitement of his world view, and revel in his effusive language.  A feast for Conroy fans, and for readers who are fascinated by the joy and majesty of a grand story.

American Playrights - Drama:
by August Wilson
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, August Wilson's Fences is bold, raw and heartbreaking.  Wilson writes vehemently, dishing out truth while your mind screams NO! and your heart tears right down the middle.  Pick up this small and powerful volume and read it before you see the newly released movie.

Just Mercy
by Bryan Stevenson
A timely read for all, Just Mercy reveals the flaws in the Southern justice system, post segregation.  Concerned with imperfect justice, innocence convicted, and the indiscriminate imposition of the death penalty, attorney Bryan Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative, which began its work in Alabama, Arkansas, and Georgia, and expanded nationwide.  Bravo Mr. Stevenson, the savior of the common man and the wrongly accused.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Marie Arana's memoir, American Chica - Two Worlds, One Childhood, guides the reader through two cultures, Peruvian and American, in the mid-twentieth century.  Seen through the eyes of five year old Marie, life in Peru is perplexing, comforting, and exciting, all at the same time.  Raised by her American mother and Peruvian father, young Marie is wrapped in what seems to outsiders as an intrusive South American familial culture.  Her American family seems cold in comparison.  Wise and powerful life lessons all seem to originate in Peru, while harsh realities come from the homogenized life of 1950's America.  
Ms. Arana's story is compelling, her settings rich and colorful.  The clash of ethnicity, belief systems, and social mores raise this memoir from a simple coming-of-age tale to an intricate tapestry, full of experiences that were woven into her very being.  The reader is drawn into Peruvian life and a bit repelled by American life, which helps explain Marie's difficulty straddling the two worlds she was raised in.  I highly recommend American Chica.