Posts Tagged ‘e-reading’

When I was visiting family last week I was in danger of running out of reading material on my iPad (Quick aside: traveling is usually the only time I choose e-reading, and from my informal survey of fellow passengers, that’s pretty common. As I have frequently discussed over at Nocturnal Librarian, the book was not a technology that needed improvement, and e-books are kinda meh to many, many people). I checked for something else to download and found that Overdrive had it’s Big Library Read going on.  So I downloaded their selection, Flat Broke With Two Goats by Jennifer McGaha.

I am not always a memoir fan — I read bad news in the news, so I am not really interested in bad news in my books, too. This one has plenty, from McGaha’s youthful abusive (and thankfully, brief) marriage to the foreclosure that is the main catalyst for the story. But I finished it, and I found it readable and interesting.

It’s always good when a book challenges assumptions. I thought I had a fairly good understanding of the basics of the economic downturn and foreclosure crisis. And I feel for people who lost their homes, especially those preyed upon by the kinds of mortgage brokers and banks depicted in The Big Short. But I found myself feeling a little sheepish as I read about McGaha’s accountant husband, David, to paying taxes for a few years and getting them so far in debt they had to foreclose and work out payments for state and federal tax. I was shaking my head, thinking, “How could an accountant let that happen?” But McGaha writes honestly about how he intended to make everything work, they never expected their troubles to compound, and she trusted him to manage it all so didn’t pay attention.

In fact, her story, one of raising her kids, working part time, and trusting her spouse with the money hit a little close to home. I could definitely get where she was coming from. I could see how it could happen — good people, scrambling to make all the ends meet, stuck in a house that they bought from friends that had a number of major things wrong with it, trusting all the way around.

So, when they lost their house, they end up living in a cabin in the woods near a waterfall, not fall from Asheville, which I visited with my mom a couple of years ago. McGaha describes the woods and the falls, the cabin (pretty rustic for a house), the awful creepy things (snakes, spiders) and the wonderful animals they raise. Yes, goats. Also chickens and dogs and a cat, all in vivid detail. Again some of it will raise your eyebrows, but McGaha is so forthright about their situation, readers end up feeling for her.

My favorite sections were when she was more introspective about how she handled her radically new life emotionally, how she grieved her grandparents, especially her grandmother, and what she felt about her career, the land, and her family history. More of that would have been enjoyable. There are a number of recipes at the ends of chapters, but I felt like maybe an editor suggested those? Maybe not. They seemed a little forced into the narrative, and that’s a trend from a few years ago (tacking recipes onto chapters in memoirs) that seemed to me like publishers grasping at how to compete with blogs or something.

I learned a great deal about goat farming, and humanity, and expanded my view of the world. Not a bad “spare” read while traveling.


Read Full Post »

April’s column appeared in yesterday’s Concord Monitor and also on the paper’s website. I reviewed David Blistein‘s David’s Inferno:My Journey through the Dark Wood of DepressionLinda Greenlaw‘s Lifesaving LessonsHenriette Lazaridis Power‘s The Clover Houseand Eric Masterson’s Birdwatching in New Hampshire.  A sidebar ran with the print version (and I’ve pasted it below) with details about Blistein’s and Power’s author events here in Concord.

Whenever I see the column in print, even though I’ve read it dozens of times and gone through at least a dozen drafts, it feels like I’ve never seen it before (plus the never-satisfied part of my writer brain finds fault with it). I’m wondering if that has anything to do with seeing it on a page for the first time instead of a screen? New Hampshire Library Association posted this very interesting Scientific American article on their Facebook page, which discusses research into the differences in our brains’ activities when we e-read rather than reading the old-fashioned way. It’s a good piece in that it doesn’t demonize e-reading, but points out why it’s different and how we process what we read digitally in a different way. The article also explains why paper reading may be better in many if not most cases, and also notes certain kinds of publications, like comics, that might benefit from digital publishing.

For anyone who can’t access the Monitor link (if you can, there are photos), here is the full  text of the column:

Many Monitor readers were moved by the newspaper’s recent series on mental health, including Annmarie Timmins’ concluding story. She shared her struggles to give a personal, familiar voice to the mostly anonymous 26% living with mental illness, and so does Vermont author David Blistein. In the forward to Blistein’s memoir his friend Ken Burns writes that the book “takes us deep into the mysteries of depression.”

In the notes to  David’s Inferno: My Journey through the Dark Wood of Depression, Blistein explains that while “The Divine Comedy is the journey of one man, it is also the journey of everyman.” He draws parallels between his own journey through depression and Dante’s great work with open-heartedness, intelligence, humor, and gentleness. For Blistein, the medieval Italian poet is “a guy who so deeply understands the struggle to simply be human on earth, a guy who knows both depths of despair and manic visions of rapture. . . .”

Blistein writes plainly about everything from facing his own depths and visions to parsing the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, understanding the science behind common pharmaceutical treatments, and exploring the way depression impacts relationships and day to day life. Like Timmins, he writes about the difficulty of finding and remaining with mental health practitioners, and about the love and support of his spouse.  In a passage about creating a labyrinth in the woods near his house Blistein writes, “When people talk about being heartbroken, it’s usually because they’ve lost something outside themselves. . . . My heart was broken. But the only thing I’d lost was inside.” He notes that the best books on mental illness “make the experience so human it’s no longer necessary for you to hold it at . . . arm’s length.” Blistein has accomplished that here, in a moving, beautiful, and important book.

Powerful family stories

Linda Greenlaw’s seafaring exploits are well documented. Her new memoir, Lifesaving Lessons, is about even harder, braver work: becoming the guardian of a sexually abused fifteen year old. Greenlaw’s humor remains intact and she spins a few yarns. But you’ve probably never broken down in tears while reading her past work, and you may this time. She’s as forthright as ever, admitting, “Guardianship and all things maternal fit neatly into the category of things about which I am clueless.” And she is unsparing in her descriptions of both the horrors her daughter went through and the tightknit community that helped them find their way to being a family. Greenlaw is frank about the impact abuse has on Isle Au Haut: “Many of us were in shock that abuse had gone on undetected and unsuspected right under our noses . . . . we started looking for signs of trouble everywhere.” But she also shares the small moments of grace that led to healing. A moving testament to resilience and to familial bonds that need no biological ties to prevail in the human heart.

 The Clover House is Boston writer Henriette Lazaridis Power’s debut novel.  It’s the story of Calliope Notaris Brown, a busy young Boston professional estranged from her Greek mother and keeping her emotional distance from everyone including her fiancée, whose cousin calls from Greece to say their Uncle Nestor has died and left Calli his houseful of memorabilia. When she arrives in Patras during Carnival, she finds much more than vials of sand from various beaches, boxes of film and childhood keepsakes at Nestor’s house. In an attempt to resolve family mysteries and understand her mother’s aloofness, Calli begins to shed her own detachment. The Clover House probes secrets and loyalties, betrayals and revelations, and the role of culture, memory, and storytelling in family and personal identity. Power has a light touch with the ending, leaving plenty for readers to ponder. Assonance and consonance and a chorus-like repetition of words in some passages create sound and rhythm in Power’s prose that’s often striking, perhaps because she is founding editor of an audio literary magazine, The Drum.

Birding in the Granite State

New Hampshire birder and author Eric Masterson’s Birdwatching in New Hampshire  is a  thoroughly informative book for birders of all skill levels and experience. Masterson writes in the  introduction, “this is not a guide to everywhere, but to the best birding events” around the state. By event he means “location, time and weather” that “must align in the right order to produce the most memorable birding moments.” Masterson discusses birding gear, tips, and ethics,  provides a monthly guide to spotting various species, and divides the state into six regions to explore, with maps and plentiful information about birding in each. One chapter covers all birds “of roughly annual occurrence in New Hampshire or its offshore waters,” but in the rest of the book Masterson “focuses on the less well-known, the spectacular, the secretive, the rare, the good bird,” and goes on to say, “this will mean different things to different people.”

SIDEBAR (this appeared in print but is not online)

Henriette Lazaridis Power will be in Concord on May 2, reading from The Clover House at Gibson’s Bookstore, 27 S. Main St, at 7pm.

David Blistein will be in Concord on June 6th, reading from David’s Inferno at Gibson’s Bookstore at 7 p.m.

Call 224-0562 or go to www.gibsonsbookstore.com for more information.

Read Full Post »