Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Helen Keller in Love

Finished Helen Keller in Love by Rosie Sultan. It's 1916 and Helen is in her mid-thirties, touring the Midwest with Annie Sullivan, her teacher and companion, speaking out against the possibility of the U.S. entering The Great War. Helen receives letters from mothers, wives and sisters of German soldiers blinded in the war, begging her for her help. Helen and Annie are always giving away their meager income to those in need, often leaving themselves destitute. The traveling has taken a toll on Annie, who is now ill with what is feared to be TB. Annie cables her estranged journalist husband asking him to send someone to them to act as secretary to Helen while Annie rests. He sends Peter Fagan. Peter knows how to finger spell and begins working for Helen immediately. The two become fast friends and eventually lovers. Annie and Helen's family see Peter as an opportunist, out to ride on the tails of Helen's fame, but Helen ignores their suspiscions. This is a sensitively imagined, unrecorded chapter in Keller's story. It reminded me a bit of The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, filling in a personal gap in a much admired woman's life.

Monday, August 26, 2013

45 Pounds (more or less)

Finished 45 Pounds (more or less) by K. A. Barson. Ann is 16 years old and a size 17. Shopping with her skinny, fitness obsessed mother is a nightmare. She is honored her Aunt Jackie has asked her to be her bridesmaid, but she dreads having to find a dress. To remedy this, Ann decides to try to lose 45 pounds before the wedding. She starts with a gimicky, infomercial weightloss program, but soon learns to design her own plan for long term health. In the process she learns how family stress caused her to gain weight and how her and her mother's fixations on weight are negatively influencing her very young sister. This is a realistic portrayal of a young person's struggle with body image and self loathing. It is thoughtful and sensitive. I recommend it in general, but also for anyone who has ever wrestled with these issues themselves. An excellent book.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls

Finished The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani. After an undisclosed family tragedy, 15 year old Thea is sent away from her rural home in Florida, away from her twin brother Sam and her beloved pony Sasi, to The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls in North Carolina. It's the early 1930s and the Great Depression is evident even among the rich and privileged girls who attend the camp. More of a finishing school for equestrian minded girls, the camp is a year round operation. The girls live in cabins, use communal showers and eat together in a large dining hall. Math and science are conspicuously absent from the curriculum.

Thea's arrival at the camp is a bit of a shock to her system. She and her family have lived in their secluded Florida home her whole life. She's never had a friend, other than her cousin Georgie, and never a girl friend. She is used to having the run of their ranch riding, playing, spending most of the day out of doors. She and her brother Sam were schooled at home by their father. She's never been to a school at all before. The sudden change in landscape, climate and girl filled atmosphere takes a bit of getting used to. Thea believes she has been sent here as a punishment for the bad thing she did. Much of the book is told in flashback, leading up to this bad thing. Thea learns to love her life at Yonahlossee and makes her first true friend. She learns to live a life away from her home, her parents and especially her twin, Sam, who she has been so close to up until this time.

This is the most raw coming-of-age book I have read. There were moments when it reminded me of An American Tragedy, not so much in plot, but in the inevitability of youthful mistakes. It was an engrossing read.

Monday, August 19, 2013

VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health . . . for Good

Finished VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health . . . for Good by Mark Bittman. Bittman has been talking about the vegan before 6:00 pm lifestyle for several years now. He lives it himself, even though he is so intrenched in the food and restaurant world. Mid-life health issues such as extra weight, high cholesterol, knee problems, sleep apnea and pre-diabetes, that his doctor diagnosed him with in the past have resolved themselves. This is not a diet, but a lifestyle change and it's not that difficult. Simply eat plant based foods until 6:00 pm, then enjoy meat and cheese, etc., at dinnertime. Dinner is not an invitation to overindulge. The book still has you planning your evening meals with plant foods as the stars and meat in a smaller supporting roll. I have been living VB6 for two weeks now and feel good. I feel lighter (I have banned the scale for the next month) and have more energy. I even went for a little run yesterday.

The text of the book is very accessible, friendly, even humorous at times, like Bittman seems himself. He does not burden you with too much science and there is no counting of points or calories. He explains the benefits of the VB6 lifestyle for you as an individual and for the environment as a whole. There are recipes for vegan breakfast, lunch and snack items and then dinner recipes that feature meat, but on the lighter side. For me, imagining vegan meals was a challenge at first, but once I started thinking in terms of items (eat a banana, half an avocado with salt and pepper, a tomato sliced with dijon mustard) it became incredible simple. The book is filled with real food suggestions, which is what I expected from Bittman. I tried to read Skinny Bitch a few years ago and found it not only caustic, but revolting. They had you using all sorts of processed vegan meat substitute items. It was disgusting for me. This book is so much more healthy and sensible. Thank you Mark.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Rabbit HIll

Finished Rabbit Hill written and illustrated by Robert Lawson. It won the Newbery Medal in 1945. All the animals living adjacent to an empty house are anticipating the arrival of new owners. Will they revive the large vegetable gardens? Will they share their bounty with their animal neighbors? Or will they set traps and put out poison instead? This micro-society has the usual types of characters, the leader, the daredevil, the naysayer. The "New Folks" turn out to be wonderfully benevolent. It almost seems as if they plant their vegetables specifically for the animals to consume. The story is a bit facile, but the illustrations are richly drawn. I couldn't help think of Richard Adams' masterpiece Watership Down which I so enjoyed just a year ago.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Before Ever After

Finished Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto. This book is intricate, exciting and hard to explain without giving away too much. It involves travel, romance, and rich story telling from ancient Europe. There were moments when it reminded me of The Time Traveler's Wife, although this is not a time travel novel. It's smart and funny and difficult to put down. That's all I'm going to tell you. Go read it for yourself.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Rilla of Ingleside

Finished Rilla of Ingleside, the eighth book in L. M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series, published in 1921. Rilla is Anne and Gilbert's youngest child. She is 15 when the book begins on the ever of World War I and 19 at the end of the book. Rilla grows tremendously during this time in terms of maturity and personal strength. Loss and longing become mainstays in her young life, but she is buoyed by taking on the responsibility of a newborn infant whose mother has died in childbirth and whose father is at the front. In many ways Rilla misses out on what would have been the happiest and most exciting years of her girlhood, but she would not have ripened into the woman she ultimately becomes if not for the war.

As always there is a wealth of quirky and humorous characters and happenings in the book, but they are of course shadowed by sadness and loss. I don't want to mention any spoilers. This is by far the most compelling book in the series. I couldn't put it down.