Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Why This Blog?

I love to read.  Anyone who knows me knows that. But for years now I have had trouble finishing books.  I'll get to page 70 or 80 and want to be on to the next thing. I end up storing books in my kindle rather than reading them.  Maybe its an embarrassment of riches I have so many wonderful books in every genre (novels, biographies, romance, westerns, books on religion, current events, mysteries etc etc) its like what to read first?  And so instead of reading what I already have in my kindle I'm looking for the next book to add to the pile.  Since books are not cheap this is not a harmless activity of mine and so I am starting this blog to read what I've already purchased.

But another reason I am embarking on this 50 book reading project is about follow through.  I've never been good at completing tasks, weight loss being one prime example. And so as in the movie Julie and Julia where Julie Powell made a plan to cook all of Julia Child's recipes from her classic book on French Cuisine and completing this task spurred her to change other things in her life, I'm hoping for a similar result.

I'm hoping to get to the end of this 50 book reading project healthier and happier, realizing of course that there are no guarantees in life.  In any event I will spend the next year, two years reading alot of great books already in my kindle and posting my thoughts and I hope everyone who visits my blog enjoys the journey.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

The second book in my 50 book reading challenge is A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley, a highly acclaimed novel that won the National Book Award in 1991 and the Pulitzer Prize in 1992.  A Thousand Acres was also made into a movie starring Jessica Lange and Michelle Pfeiffer which received not so great reviews but critics agree the novel itself is a masterpiece.  But be warned, this novel is very tragic, some would say on a Shakespearean level which is not a coincidence since A Thousand Acres is a modern retelling of Shakespeare's King Lear.

Jane Smiley has set A Thousand Acres in a rural farm community in Iowa.  The year is 1979 and Larry Cook is the wealthiest farmer in Zebulon County.  He has three grown daughters. The eldest two, Ginny and Rose live on their father's farm and with their husbands help him run his thousand acres, catering to his wishes and never challenging his authority.  The youngest, Caroline, is the only daughter who has moved away and shaped a different life for herself.

Then one day Larry Cook announces he is retiring and giving the farm to his three daughters. Ginny, Rose and their husbands are pleased to finally have something of their own but Caroline replies "I don't know".  Her father immediately cuts her out of the inheritance and gives the farm to Ginny and Rose setting the stage for all that is to come (which is considerable)

A Thousand Acres is about families and long buried secrets reverberating through many generations.  Its about fathers and daughters, husbands and wives, life in rural America, the perils of farming and how terrible accidents can happen in an instant and much more.  Utimately it's the story of Ginny and her sister Rose and the bond they share forged in childhood.  Ginny narrates the novel.  We see it all through her eyes as she looks back from a future time trying to understand what happened that fateful summer of 1979.

I wish I could quote the many passages that stood out for me in Jane Smiley's book but I feel hesitant without the okay of the author.  So I would say read A Thousand Acres for yourself.  If after 50 pages its not for you, no problem but I think you will be hooked.  It's a reading experience you won't soon forget.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Duel With The Devil by Paul Collins

Just finished reading Duel With The Devil by Paul Collins.  It falls under the category American History/True Crime about a sensational murder that took place in New York City 1799 and came to be known as the Manhattan Well Murder.  The victim, Elma Sands, was a young single woman living in a boarding house in New York City run by her cousin.  On the the night of December 22, 1799 Elma went missing.  Her body was later found at the bottom of a well in the Soho section of Manhattan.  Once her body was discovered the city was in an uproar and fingers pointed to Levi Weeks a young man also living at the boarding house.  The theory was that Elma went out with Levi on the night of her death thinking they were going to elope. Levi was immediately arrested and thrown into prison awaiting his trial.  What makes this case historically interesting is that Levi Weeks' defense team consisted of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton.  A rare moment when these two bitter adversaries agreed on anything.

I wouldn't say Duel With The Devil is the best true crime book I've read but once the trial gets going it did pick up for me and the author, Paul Collins, does a good job laying out what New York City was like in 1799 - 1800.  Manhattan was just getting over a Yellow Fever outbreak and the conditions around the city were very unsanitary, the water in particular being undrinkable.  It was not a safe place for a young woman living by herself in a boarding house either.  Paul Collins agrees with the jury verdict, which took them only minutes to arrive at, that Levi Weeks could not have been the killer. As to who killed Elma Sands, Collins points to another boarder who had a history of insanity and violent behavior towards women and young girls and who seemed too eager after the murder to spread rumors that Levi was responsible, taking the focus off himself.

After the trial Levi Weeks had to leave the city.  Despite the not guilty verdict many continued to see him as guilty but his carpentry skills after he set up a new life for himself down South provided a good living and he went on to rebuild his life, get married and have children.  As for Hamilton and Burr their next major encounter would not end happily.  They were brilliant but flawed men which led to their famous and tragic duel in which Burr killed Hamilton.