"When she woke, she was red. Not flushed, not sunburned, but the solid declarative red of a stop sign". Hillary Jordan
Hillary Jordan's new novel When She Woke is an engaging read. I started and finished it in one evening and the story gripped me. She describes a futuristic society in which criminals are mela-chromed for different crimes. Red if you've committed murder, yellow for other crimes. Hannah, the protagonist, had an abortion and is thus convicted of murder. It's a re-telling of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter mixed with Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale .
I really liked Jordan's first novel Mudbound, which won the Bellwether prize http://www.pen.org/page.php/prmID/2145, sponsored by Barbara Kingsolver. Mudbound deals with racism in Mississippi and offers effective conclusions to the issues that it brings up. When She Woke brings up so many issues that it's impossible to fully explore all of them and the result leaves the reader slightly confused and frustrated. I love a good "issue" novel, but this one fell flat for me during the last 80 pages.
However, this did make me want to read The Scarlet Letter and The Handmaid's Tale again. It also made me think about how often in my life I try to take on too many issues and how much more effective it is to choose one and deal with it effectively.
" The pleasures of eating are trumpeted loudly in today's society and that is a wonderful thing. But the pleasure of knowing what occurred on the journey from the field to the table are just as important, because food tastes so much better that way..." Georgia Pellegrini
Yep. That's a picture of me. Plucking a duck. A pretty mallard one at that. The theme of Georgia Pellegrini's book matches one of the theme of my life pretty well right now. A few years ago, I got interested in thinking about eating locally and where my food was coming from. This led to joining Global Gardens CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and learning more about where my vegetables were coming from. Then, I met Scott and his freezer full of food. I haven't bought meat in the last 2 and a half years and it's been an education in what it really means to know where your food comes from. For us, it means if you're gonna know where your meat is coming from you're gonna have to be comfortable getting your meat and when I say getting your meat, I mean hunting or fishing. I've caught a few fish, but at this point, Scott's the big hunter in the household, but I'm definitely getting more comfortable with it.
Me? Ice fishing.
But, the thing about hunting and knowing where your food comes from is that sometimes it's gross. Cleaning the innards out of a duck stinks, literally, and sometimes it might make you feel like throwing up. Especially when it's cold and you're tired and hungry. At the same time, it feels really true. When you sit down to a meal where you helped pluck and clean the duck at the table, the food tastes delicious and the effort is worth it. I can definitely relate to Pellegrini when she talks about knowing what has transpired on the way to the plate. Her book is part-memoir and part cookbook.
She travels to many sought after hunting locations and hunts turkeys, javelina, squirrels, pheasants, hog, doves, and many other birds. She reflects on many of the hunts that are on private land and therefore not available to all hunters and about the hunts that are available to gentleman hunters. Pellegrini used to be a chef and uses her culinary prowess to invent and share recipes that make you want to try them. She also explains the history of hunting in the United States and experiences some hunters with questionable hunting ethics. Hunting is complicated and each state regulates things slightly differently which makes it a research project to find out what the regulations are each time you got out. We are really lucky to live in Idaho where there are so many opportunities to hunt and gather.
We tried her recipe for Balsamic Deer Heart for dinner tonight and it was a success.
Balsamic Deer Heart, Buttercup Squash with homemade Strawberry Jam, Sauteed Lentil and Alfalfa Sprouts, and Sour Milk Potato Muffin.
" I didn't know what to say. How could an individual blame a country for her personal trouble?" - The House Behind a Weeping Cherry- by Ha Jin
This beautiful collection of stories is centered around themes of immigration and fitting in in a new world. Some of the stories take place in China, but most in Flushing, New York. I listened to this on audio and each story had a different narrator which made the stories stand out. One of my favorites is about a pair of sisters, one in China and one in the U.S. who begin communicating via the internet. What had once been a loving relationship when they were writing letters becomes a source of irritation when there is such instant communication. Another story deals with the relationship between grandparents and their grandchildren who have changed their names to be more American.
The themes in this book are also universal and would apply to anyone fitting in and trying new relationships and ways of being on for size.
I've seen many of Ha Jin's books on must read lists but never picked one up before. Sometimes I like to read a collection of short stories before committing to a novel and that was a good choice here. I look forward to committing to one of Jin's novels soon and would definitely recommend this book.
"Chinese parents can get away with things that Western parents can't". -Amy Chua
I knew this moment would come sooner or later and it definitely came sooner rather than later. The moment that I have to talk about a book that I didn't like and wouldn't recommend. On our New Year's road trip, we listened to Chua's account of raising her children as a Chinese tiger mother. The book is much less parenting book and much more self-aggrandizing memoir. I'll admit that some of her descriptions are funny, but the entire book could have been summed up in a couple of chapters.
As can be seen by the quote above, Chua makes sweeping generalizations about Chinese and Western parenting. Chua views herself as a "tiger mother" who makes her children practice piano for 2 hours each day whether they are on vacation in order to bring out what she views as the best in them. She rejects handmade birthday cards because they don't meet her standards, and threatens to burn their stuffed animals if the music doesn't sound like she thinks it should.
Towards the end of the book, Chua concedes that her methods don't work as well with her younger daughter and admits that she may need to change her style to fit the needs of her child. Despite her admission, she still maintains that her way of Chinese parenting is superior and I was left feeling dis-satisfied with her conclusions. I'm curious if other people experienced the books differently than I did. I picked it up because of all the hype surrounding it.
"And a fear, she knew, a fear must be a secret kind of wish, a seed from which some fruit must follow.
from "Architect of Flowers"
Each sentence in this searing collection of short stories is full of new ideas. Each word is beautiful, lyrical, and carefully planned. The resulting stories help us make sense of the space where hopes and dreams meet the reality of life. The snapshots of the towns and worlds portrayed by Lychack speak volumes between the lines and left me thinking through exactly what had happened in each story, long after I'd turned to page. Peoria, Illinois where one of the stories takes place entered my dreams and I found myself wondering what had happened to the pregnant woman who wants to raise chickens after her child was born. The stories serve as beautiful snapshots of moments in everyday lives. Moments that are portrayed vividly enough that you wonder if they are your memories or moments that you are reading in a book.
The irony of this book is that one of my work colleagues kept talking about a book called The Language of Flowers and I mistook her recommendation of that book for this book. So glad that I mis-remembered the title because this short book is delightful.