Archive for January, 2013

I was very pleased to see Son waiting for me when I got to work at the library last week, because it’s been on my holds list for months. Son is Lois Lowry’s much anticipated fourth book in The Giver series. Bookconscious readers may recall I read Gathering Blue and Messenger last fall to prepare for Son. In September 2011, I read The Giver because Lois Lowry’s reading that month at Gibson’s was one of the last I set up as events coordinator.

Son is mainly the story of Claire, the young Birthmother who bears Gabe, the child Jonas’s father brings home from the nurturing center at night in The Giver. Son begins around the same time the events of The Giver are taking place, and Claire refers to some of them. When Gabe is born, he’s delivered via cesarean and Claire is “decertified” after the difficult birth and assigned to live and work at the community’s fish hatchery.

It happens so suddenly that someone overlooks issuing Claire the pills everyone takes that suppress emotions. Claire misses her son, even though Birthmothers generally just produce children without giving them a second thought. She volunteers at the Nurturing Center where infants are cared for in order to see him and even though it’s not a familiar feeling, she loves him. And she realizes how strange it is that her parents did not seem to feel the same way about her, and that her co-workers at the hatchery also seem devoid of the feelings she’s experiencing.

When the climax of The Giver unfolds (I don’t want to give away spoilers) Claire decides to leave the community, escaping on a supply boat docked on the river. She washes ashore in a strange place which is bordered by the sea on one side and a cliff on the other, and has almost no memory of her life before or even what happened to the boat. She feels her loss but can’t identify it.

The people in this place live a much more primitive life — no electricity, no modern medicine. Alys, an elderly midwife and healer, takes Claire in. A crippled shepherd, Einar, befriends her as a fellow misfit in the village. Eventually she learns the story of his daring attempt to “climb out” over the cliff, and why he failed. When she begins to regain her own memories, Einar prepares her to climb out  so she can find her son.  I’ll leave it at that, so you can read for yourself what happens.

I like each of the books in the series because they are a rich literary feast for young people, brimming with Big Ideas — the nature of good and evil, the meaning of community and family, the way people should conduct and govern themselves, how our choices impact our world, the power of love. As in the other books, the themes of sacrifice and exile recur in Son, and the heroes’ gifts and how they choose to use them make the outcome possible. One could argue that although Jonas and Kira, Matty and Gabe appear to have supernatural or magical power, Lowry really just endows them with exaggerated versions of ordinary traits: attentiveness, empathy, compassion, wisdom, trust, thoughtfulness, understanding.  But Lowry never hits her readers over the head with this, or any message — her stories convey “big T Truths” without overt preaching.

I wish this wasn’t the “conclusion” as it says on the cover of Son, because I still have some questions. I’d especially like to know what becomes of Alys and Einar from Son (and the children of their village) but there are several other characters whose stories seem compelling. What about Gabe? He’s still young at the end of Son. And Claire, who experiences a renewal of sorts — what does she do with the rest of her life? Even if Lowry never writes their stories I am very glad that generations of readers will be able to let their imaginations explore the world she’s given them.

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The other book I checked out before the holidays because I’d meant to read it for some time is People of the Book. I really enjoyed Caleb’s Crossing and Nichole Bernier recommended People of the Book last fall when she read from The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. at Gibson’s. Since I loved two other books Nichole recommended that night (Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety and M. L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans), I figured I’d like this one too.

And I did, even though it took me awhile to read it between holiday visits, parties, and events and post-holiday chores and errands. Like Caleb’s Crossing, I found People of the Book‘s historical details evocative and fascinating, and also as in that book, I liked Geraldine Brooks’ strong female protagonist, this time an Australian book conservator named Hannah Heath. Brooks takes readers back in time through several periods as Hannah inspects, studies, and prepares for exhibit the rare illuminated manuscript, recounting Jewish history through the Exodus, known as The Sarajevo Haggadah.

When the book opens, it’s 1996, the Bosnian war has just ended, and Hannah begins her work. A few traces people have left behind — a wine stain, an inquisitor’s signature, a cat hair, a bit of salt, an insect’s wing, and the space where clasps once held the binding closed — are the jumping off points for the haggadah’s story. Each character from each place and time was interesting, and Brooks brought them all to life in places she made vivid. Maps with dates on the end papers show readers “The Global Journey of the Sarajevo Haggadah” so you can follow it as you read or preview what’s coming.

People of the Book is in part the stories of people in various centuries who carry out Brooks’ fictional history of the Sarajevo Haggadah. It’s also a novel about a young woman seeking her own place in the world. Hannah’s mother, a famous neurosurgeon, disdains her work, at one point telling her she is nothing but a “tradeswoman” despite the fact that Hannah’s expertise and training sets her apart as one of the best conservators in the world. In the course of the book Hannah learns her father’s identity and meets an extended family she didn’t know she had.  It’s a mystery too, with the clues Hannah tracks about the haggadah’s history and a chapter about the manuscript’s whereabouts. And it’s a lovely recounting of the importance of art and books and the resilience of the human spirit throughout history.

It was also a terrific read in the evenings as a busy year drew to a close and the new one began. Brooks leaves readers feeling hopeful that the long story of human cooperation, tolerance, and friendship is at least as strong as its opposite.

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I’m putting the finishing touches on my January column, with reviews of Magical Journey: An Apprenticeship in Contentment by New Hampshire author Katrina Kenison, Vanity Fare: a Novel of Lattes, Literature, and Love by New Hampshire native Megan Caldwell, and Good Kids, a novel by Benjamin Nugent, who is Director of Creative Writing at Southern New Hampshire University. I also give a shout out to Dartmouth professor Charles Wheelan‘s Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data.

Why is it, by the way, that publishers feel the need to add “a novel” after fiction titles these days? Do they think we readers can’t figure out what kind of book we’re looking at? Is it backlash from all those semi-true memoirs?

Anyway, the column will appear on my usual 2nd Sunday of the month, January 13, 2013 in the Concord Monitor. I’ll post a link.


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Happy New Year, bookconscious readers. Over the holidays I picked out a couple of books from my long term “to read” list and checked them out of the library. Nothing on two week loan (new books), nothing too challenging (no Tolstoy), just good reads I could dip into when I had a few minutes.

The first was The King’s Speech: How One Man Saved the British Monarchy by Mark Logue and Peter Conrad. Mark is the son of Antony Logue, who was Lionel Logue’s youngest son. Lionel Logue was the speech therapist portrayed by Geoffrey Rush in the film The King’s Speech. In the book, Mark Logue explains that although he was born long after his grandfather died, he had grown up with photos of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in his home, but had never really thought about why.

After public interest in Logue resulted in a BBC documentary and then filmmaker Iain Canning  planned to produce the famous recent film about Logue’s role in helping King George VI overcome his stutter, Mark Logue began to wonder about his grandfather’s life and explored family papers. He tracked down parts of the archive that were missing from his own father’s collection and with Peter Conrad, wrote this book.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. Lionel Logue was a gentle, kind, compassionate man whose work helped speech therapy become a respected profession.  I also enjoyed learning about his wife Myrtle and their family, and about the royal family. I was impressed that Logue never tried to exploit his royal connection or profit from it.  And as always, I’m impressed by the spirit of the British during WWII and their national effort to “keep calm and carry on” during the war. Also I admired Logue’s “life learning” approach to speech therapy — much of what he practiced he’d learned by experience as an elocution teacher and orator, and from his understanding of the psychological importance of confidence.

The book does clear up some things the film muddied a bit. For example, by the time he became king, the Duke of York (as he was known prior to his brother’s abdication) had been working with Logue for ten years. He first sought his help before his father, King George V, sent him on a royal tour to Australia, where he had to give an important speech at a time when Australians were questioning their place in the empire.  The improvement in his speaking was so dramatic and swift that the trip was a huge success, but he continued to work with Logue, faithfully doing the exercises he prescribed and working on the wording of speeches.

A period passed where he saw Logue less but then before the coronation, they began steady work again, with Logue helping with the many war speeches, including the key speech portrayed in the film version, and spending most Christmases helping the king prepare for this annual broadcast.

If you want a light historical read and a really heart-warming human interest story, I’d recommend The King’s Speech.

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