Saturday, August 5, 2017

July Books, Part 3

With our jaunt to Sligo and all the excitement there, I never posted the third and final installment of my July books. Here it is, before we get too far into August.

Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home by Jessica Fechtor
One morning while the author was at an academic conference using the treadmill in a hotel gym, she suddenly found herself on the floor, head cradled in a colleague’s lap, vomiting and with a terrible, intense headache. An aneurysm had burst. This book is an account of what she remembers from that morning and what followed as she underwent surgeries, rehab, recovery, and lessons learned. At the time of her brain injury, she was a PhD student in Jewish literature who was also a foodie. She enjoyed eating and preparing food with which to share with others. This interest in food and cooking helped with her healing and recovery and is a sort of organising theme of the book. Recipes are included.
It was a good book and I was reminded again of how much people can go through and somehow heal. I must admit though, that I had a constant background thought as I was reading and that was what a privileged position this young woman was in. I did not resent her for this, but as always happens in situations like this, I start to think about people who might have health issues of the same seriousness, but without the strong family/friendship support system, without the kind of excellent health insurance the author apparently enjoyed, and who did not live in the kinds of circumstances that would allow them to eat artisan bread and cheese whenever the mood struck or to snack on dried cherries as a means of comfort. I think the attitude towards food was the thing I liked least about the book. I found the general premise interesting, but the food snob aspects of the whole thing made the book less enjoyable for me than it otherwise would have been. As for the rest of it, I was glad that she had a support network and good health insurance--everyone should have those things. Reading the book as I did, though, during the days when the US Senate was trying to devise new and creative ways to deny millions of USians health coverage while so many people were terrified that they or their sick loved ones could die as a result of such political games did provide quite a contrast between those who are more vulnerable and those who are a bit more secure.

All the Beloved Ghosts by Allison MacLeod
This was an interesting mix of short stories that touched on a variety of themes, such as Sylvia Plath, Tony Blair, terrorism, life in the UK, among others. My favourite story in the book was one that took place inside the underground from the perspectives of various riders in a single area. The title escapes me at the moment. I found the book while scrolling through the e-book collection at the library--a happy discovery!

The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them by Elif Batuman
I began the month with a novel by the same author called The Idiot. When I posted about that book, I mentioned that I was sorry to part company with the main character because I wanted to see what happens to her. Turns out that this book (the author’s first) pretty much tells me. It’s non-fiction--a mix of memoir and thoughts on Russian literature--but in the introduction, she gives some background about what came before this time in her life. It was the storyline of The Idiot, so I read this as something of a continuation of that book, even though this one was written first. I enjoyed it, but liked The Idiot better.
This book begins as the author is deciding whether to do a PhD or go to writer’s workshops. She takes a dim view of the workshop system so opts for grad school. She writes about her experiences in academia, her ideas about certain authors and their novels, and especially a trip she took to Uzbekhistan. There are three chapters devoted to her stay in Samarkand, but they do not all come back to back. Rather, they are separated by chapters about other topics. Near the end of the book, when she was recounting an argument involving two men, one of whom was a tour guide, she reports that one man finally had enough and hurled an insult at the other guy, telling him, ‘What does a donkey know about fruit compote, anyway!?’ I found that quite amusing.

Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood
I listened to this audiobook after coming across it in the e-book/audiobook section of the library website. I enjoyed it a lot and found myself looking forward to getting back to it at night with some yarn in hand. It is a collection of short stories, but all involve the central character, Nell. The first story takes place in Nell’s older years, but then we go back to her childhood and the stories move chronologically from there.

Happy August reading!

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