Rise is the fictional story of another kind of escape into the countryside, from sexual abuse into a small Scotland village. But there are no cliches about abusive relationships, no platitudes about small-town life, and, mercifully, no harangues about the Scottish independence vote, which is about to happen as a minor theme in the story. The story is thrilling but the focus is on the heroine and her complicated feelings and scheming as she burrows into a local family for protection, while the family is imploding, in part because of her actions. Even the ending is properly sober. Highly recommended!
The Point of Vanishing: A Memoir of Two Years in Solitude is a memoir by a young man who, after suffering a freak sports accident and a sad breakup spends a couple years in an isolated cabin in the woods, with only isolated trips to the grocery store, which may not happen for weeks when the road plower fails to show up after the frequent winter storms.
He talks movingly about the woods and his relationship with nature, as well as his awkward re-entry into society, along with the events that brought him to the cabin in the first place. A lovely reflection on what busy-ness and noise can destroy.
Beauty Is a Wound is an epic story of a family, intertwined with the colonial history of Indonesia. It opens with the rising from her grave of the family matriarch, a prostitute with a doomed family–so if you don’t care for otherworldly tales, steer clear.
That said, the story is wonderfully told in chapters that skip from colonial times to the present, and from one character to the other. The reader has to work hard to keep up, especially as ghosts frequently add to the large cast of characters. I would have preferred a less heavy hand on the raping and violence, but much of the action takes place during wars and revolutions so it’s par for the course, I suppose.
I don’t particularly like horses but I found The Horse: The Epic History of Our Noble Companion very interesting in its careful recounting of the evolution of the species. The book often reminded me of Domesticated, recently reviewed here, and which looks at a variety of domestic animals. I could have done without the stories of the author’s own horses (she obviously loves them, and finds them intelligent, unlike me) but it was astonishing to see how little serious study there has been on horse behavior– for wild or domestic animals.
If you love horses, you will love this book.
Whether you have been a fan of Kinsey Millhone since “A” or you are just starting at X, this is a good one! Of course a solid psychopath makes for a good mystery, but there are at least three villains in this story, who intersect but never meet — even as the avid reader tirelessly anticipates how they will! And it’s the little details that make the story, whether it is having to re-read the manual of the answering machine before changing the message (pre-internet, pre-cell phone, pre-everything), or finding ways to meet the drought-mandated conservation measures (the internet did not change that!). I could do without Kinsey acting as a marriage counselor, but I thoroughly enjoyed the story.
Move: Putting America’s Infrastructure Back in the Lead talks about the aging and neglected infrastructure in the US, from roads to railways, cities and airports. I found it supremely soporific, with many disaster stories but few real solutions — and occasional bloopers, such as stating that San Jose, CA, does a great job of lifting children from poverty to high incomes (yay!) because of, get this, its wonderful public transit system. Surely the author jests. Has she experienced the transit system in San Jose versus, say, her beloved Boston? And can she honestly link public transit and education? There is no evidence of that in the book.
It’s too bad that more people don’t think about improving infrastructure but this book will not inspire the masses to push for more public investment.
Listening to Stone: The Art and Life of Isamu Noguchi is a biography of Noguchi, sculptor and designer of gardens, furniture, and more. I find biographies challenging to read, as lives often proceed like DNA, with lots of junk between interesting genes, and this one was no exception, even with a remarkable subject. I thought that his childhood story to be very intriguing: his American mother abandoned while pregnant by his Japanese father, who took only a very small interest in him (and her), his being sent alone, age 13, from Japan to a US boarding school, and his deciding, after high school, to pursue education outside a conventional academic education. Another aspect of his life that the author explains well is his continuous, and successful search to renew himself, all the way into old age. If you can endure the multiple moves from continent to continenent, the many love affairs and, once he got successful, his bossing around everyone around him, you will do well with the “junk” pieces too.