A Select Assortment of Books and More
Fiction or non, read or view these for pleasure and learning
Posted May 20, 2015
The selection in this grab bag was chosen because, when I read or watched them, I really wanted to share them with you.
You may not detect a theme among these brief reviews. However, my motivation for grouping them—I will be honest—is that I'll be blogging much less for a while as I lower myself back into the all-consuming world of my second novel. These are books and DVDs that recently moved me and don't deserve to be lost due to the press of (my) time.
Soil (Simon & Schuster) by Jamie Kornegay is set in the rural South. This is Kornegay's first published novel, and it includes so many sensory details, from the smell of a burned corpse to the soppy textures of a flooded farm, that some images stay with you long after your memory of the plot points fade.
Jay hopes to make a go of his dream of a sustainable farm. But when too many things don’t work out as he’d planned, his wife, who doesn't share his dream, moves out with their son. And as the farm itself falls more deeply into failure and ruin, and Jay’s luck goes from bad to very complicatedly bad, his mental health worsens. His obsessiveness and paranoia don’t help him make the best choices.
Kornegay has said that he “daydreams of moving off the grid, setting up a self-sufficient system, and living with” his family. We have friends who are currently intending to do just that, and I don't plan to recommend this book to them. For anyone else, though, it’s a moving, darkly funny, violent, science-based novel.
Housebreaking (Simon & Schuster) by Dan Pope is a suburban or small-town novel about two families whose members tangle together in ways that aren’t always happy-making. Readers share their sex and love lives, their confusion and secret-keeping, their many miscommunications, and their loss, grief, and reinvention.
An 84-year-old widower finds something like love with a funny and believable widow, and we laugh sympathetically. A middle-aged man gets a chance with his high-school crush, but the timing proves tricky for both of them. Other characters include a hurting rebellious teenager and a lawyer who takes a big risk and pays the price.
This book is smoothly written, never dull or draggy, with psychological insight and realistic dialogue, a sense of place without place being the main attraction. The fully fleshed-out characters share their own versions of the action in distinct sections. Everyone is flawed, as humans are. I tended to feel that the main male character focused overmuch on his lover’s perfect ass, but I suspect such obsessions are genuine.
What If I'm a(n) Atheist? A Teen's Guide to Exploring a Life Without Religion (Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster), by David Seidman, is an up-to-date and supportive guide for those teens who find themselves with questions they either can't ask or can't get good answers to. Parents and others who work with young people should read it to get insight into the way some kids are thinking. At a time when fitting in is so important, non-believing teens may feel especially isolated, even attacked. This book offers numerous ways to counter the remarks and questions of others, and provides role models, charts such as one showing the low murder rates in nations that have more atheists, and great resources. Very reader-friendly. Check out the book's website for a table of contents and more. Available as an ebook too.
Myself and Some Other Being: Wordsworth and the Life Writing (University of Iowa Press) by Daniel Robinson is a 120-page book about the famous poet’s process of writing The Prelude, an autobiographical epic poem in 13 (or 14) volumes. Apparently Wordsworth’s friend and collaborator Samuel Taylor Coleridge challenged him to write the best epic poem ever. Insecure yet ambitious, Wordsworth worked on this poem through endless revisions, trying to find himself as a writer by writing about himself, something that wasn’t necessarily common in those days.
Daniel Robinson, professor of English at Widener University and the author and editor of several previous books about poetry, offers enough detail—but not so much as to be forbidding for the non-English major—for this to be readable and instructive for anyone who loves poetry.
The Perversion of Virtue: Understanding Murder-Suicide (Oxford University Press) is by Thomas Joiner, who is the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor in the Dept of psychology at FSU. While this book isn't brand-new, I keep thinking about it, as it has become even more relevant over time.
Joiner's thesis is that those who kill someone and then themselves use wrongheaded logic to fit their heinous acts into one of four virtues: mercy, justice, duty and glory. They see their acts as a way of righting wrongs done to them, of ensuring their kids or mates won’t have to live without them after a suicide, or some blather about duty or glory that tends to lead to some really big incidents.
Rather than merely eliminating himself (no one needs me or will miss me and everyone is better off without the burden I create), he kills his ill wife too (who else would care for her, no one needs our dual burden). He thinks he’s being merciful and also doing his duty. Joiner makes a powerful case for further scientific research into this area.
And now for something different: DVDs
Bill Moyers: Faith & Reason Collection is a six-DVD boxed set containing three programs broadcast originally on PBS (including On Faith and Reason, Moyers with 12 Writers and Thinkers; The Wisdom of Faith with Huston Smith, professor of comparative religion; and Amazing Grace, about the song’s origin and popularity, featuring several performances).
Bill Moyers, as you probably know, is a warmly compassionate and reasonable interviewer, and this DVD collection showcases all kinds of thinking and creativity about a variety of systems of thought and belief. Total running time is 12 1/2 hrs plus a bonus about Pete Seeger and three 12-page viewers guides. (AcornOnline.com).
Foyle's War, Set 8. Oh, no, it's the final set of those brilliantly written and acted mysteries starting Michael Kitchen, this time taking place in 1946 London at the beginning of the Cold War. I didn't want the series to end, but end it did, and not badly. Foyle, played superbly by Kitchen, is showing his age, but is still amazing to watch. The pregnancy of his driver Sam, played by Honeysuckle Weeks, is mentioned frequently, as Sam will have to leave her job soon. We are reminded how far feminism has yet to go.
The three full-length mysteries are enriched by more than two hours of bonus features, including how much truth there is behind each story (a lot). I couldn't recommend this set and this entire series any more highly.
Copyright (c) 2015 by Susan K. Perry, author of Kylie’s Heel