Read Harder 2016

Have you heard about Bookriot’s Read Harder Challenge?

I thought it would be interesting to see which books I’ve read in these categories, since Ann Patchett just wrote about her own progress in making her way through the list.

I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading, too, so let us know in the comments. Book suggestions are appreciated and welcome, especially for those categories I’ve left blank.

commonwealthBy the way, Ann just released her new novel, Commonwealth. Many of you know she’s one of my favorite novelists, so I’ll be sure to get my hands on it as soon as I can.

True story, when Ann was a girl, one morning she woke up to find kids she didn’t know in the kitchen. Turned out, her mother had gotten remarried, and these were her new half siblings.

Ann has translated some of that strange family experience into a novel that isn’t, literally, a true story, but that I imagine has plenty of emotional truth, as writers of fiction often say about their work.

If you’re looking for other suggestions, check out the New York Public Library’s Read Harder recommendations. See also the reader-generated lists on Goodreads.

If I’ve left the category blank, it means I haven’t read that category and don’t have any particular suggestions. If you do, please let us know.

BOOKRIOT’S READ HARDER CHALLENGE 2016

Read a horror book

Read a nonfiction book about science: Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren. (I’m reading it now). It has gotten excellent reviews, a memoir about a female scientist. It’s an eye opener, in part about what women in science are (still) up against, but there’s a lot more to this memoir about a woman passionate about plants.

I just borrowed Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, by Edward O. Wilson from the library. Nearing the end of his life, Wilson felt compelled to sound the alarm once more. He proposes that we devote half the surface of the earth to nature.

Queen of the Fall book coverRead a collection of essays: Queen of the Fall, by Sonja Livingston; and Why We Write About Ourselves, edited by Meredith Maran.

Read a book out loud to someone else: The Harry Potter series; The Giver; and Hatchet. Not this year, but when our sons were growing up, these were unforgettable read alouds. Harry Potter is especially captivating read deep in the woods at night when you’re camping.

Read a middle grade novel: see above, none this year for me.

Read a biography (not memoir or autobiography): Charlotte Bronté: A Fiery Heart, by Claire Harmon is on my to-read list. See the feminist category below.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo IshiguroRead a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, and Find Me, by Laura Van Den Berg. I read everything by Ishiguro. The latter novel by Van Den Berg was well reviewed and is excellent, though it didn’t really speak to me.

Read a book originally published in the decade you were born: I’ve been wanting to re-read Australian Neville Shute’s chilling dystopian novel, On the Beach. His  A Town Like Alice blew me away in 1981 as a 5-hour Masterpiece Theatre production, and I would love to watch it again. (It’s only available on VHS.) I don’t believe I ever read the book.

Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie Award: 

The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism, by Dorothy Kearns Goodwin. OK, I haven’t read this book or even listened to it, but I gave it as a gift to a friend who loves Teddy Roosevelt. It won an Audie in 2015 for the best History/Biography category. This would qualify for the over 500 pages category, too, which is reason enough to listen to the audio version. I should read this or listen to it, considering that I believe journalism today is in a sorry state.

There is an Audie Classic Category, which I didn’t know about but just may entice me to finally start listening to audio books. Here’s a suggestion that sounds intriguing, also an Audie award winner: The New York Stories by John O’Hara.

I will try audio books soon, but I resist them. I don’t want to constantly fill my head with media, I need plenty of silence to think and to let my own writing germinate.

I’ve read and hear often that print books will disappear. Some people announce this with a great deal of glee, and I don’t understand why. Can we have both? Why does it seem to make some people happy that print books may disappear?

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay book coverRead a book over 500 pages long: Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels. I’m counting this as a long read, even though there are four in the series. Had a great discussion about these books in a book club attended by many Italian-American women. One day I’ll read her other novels, which I’ve heard are rather devastating.

Read a book under 100 pages: Tribeby Sebastian Junger. (130 pages, close enough)

Read a book by or about a person that identifies as transgender: Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides, one of my favorites. Read this a few years back, superb.

Read a book that is set in the Middle East

Read a book that is by an author from Southeast Asia

To the Bright EdgeRead a book of historical fiction set before 1900: To the Bright Edge of the World by Eown Ivey; De Potter’s Grand Tour, by Joanna Scott.

Read the first book in a series by a person of color: Not a series, but this year I read and loved Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, and his memoir, The Beautiful Struggle. 

Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years: This book is older than three years–I picked up Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, by Alison Bechdel, but didn’t finish it. I may get back to it someday. It’s becoming a classic.

Read a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie. Debate which is better:

I did see the movie, Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin, but didn’t read the book, don’t plan to. The movie was pretty good, mostly because of the acting, otherwise predictable.

I also saw this year the movie Carol based on the novel, The Price of Salt, by Patricia Highsmith. I thought it was excellent, haven’t read the novel. I was flabbergasted when someone I know said the main character in the movie was a predator. That is not how I interpreted the character in this movie about a lesbian relationship in the 1950s. I saw her as sympathetic. If anyone else has seen the movie and can comment, I’d love to hear your thoughts. I felt the predator comment revealed perhaps unconscious LGTBQ bias; but then again, Highsmith’s novels have disturbing characters. Perhaps the actual novel was darker, and some of that came through in the movie?

Read a nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes:

My Life on the Road, by Gloria Steinem is a big bio this year, though I haven’t read it. I HAVE read, this year, and in the case of Bronté’s novel, many years in the past:  Jane Eyre’s Sisters, by Jody Gentian Bower and Jane Eyre. These, because my memoir has a Jane Eyre theme. Last year I read Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. Fabulous.

Read a book about religion (fiction or nonfiction): After Buddhism, by Stephen Batchelor. (On my to-read list)

67 ShotsRead a book about politics, in your country or another (fiction or nonfiction): 67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence, by Howard MeansThis one is personally meaningful.

Read a food memoir: On my to-read list is Blue Plate Special by Kate Christensen. Classics I love are Laurie Colwin’s food memoirs. Elizabeth David was a superb food writer, though her books aren’t really memoirs. Ruth Reichl has come out with a new food memoir this year that I haven’t read, My Kitchen Life: 136 Recipes that Changed My Life.

Read a play

Read a book with a main character that has a mental illness:  A Common Struggle, by Patrick J. Kennedy. This is a memoir. I also read the riveting memoir, A Mother’s Reckoning. The Eagle Tree by Ned Hayes is fiction, and it’s absolutely great.

Here’s a smidgen of The Masterpiece Theatre version of A Town Like Alice.

Have you read any books in these categories, or do you have any suggestions? Are you following the Read Harder challenge? Let us know in the comments.

Becoming Wise

A quick post today….

IMG_2995In my last post I told you about the wonderful Browsers Bookshop I visited in Olympia. In addition to The Eagle Tree, by Ned Hayes, I picked up a copy of Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living by Krista Tippett, who hosts and produces one of my favorite public radio programs/podcasts, On Being.

This book is a bit hard to describe, but I think you will like it if you wonder about the great spiritual and ethical questions of our time and enjoy hearing from some of our greatest contemporary thinkers – scientists, physicians, psychologists, poets, theologians, activists, etc.

This is essentially what Krista Tippett does on her radio program – engage in the art of conversation with them as they probe the meaning of life together – and in Becoming Wise she’s included highlights of some of these intriguing interviews, organized around the themes of Words, Flesh, Love, Faith and Hope.

The book jacket calls Becoming Wise a master class in living, curated by Krista Tippett. It left me feeling uplifted and hopeful, and I think it will leave you the same way.

Here are selected passages:

“I’m stretching my point only a bit when I say that in American life, every vision must begin and end in an economic argument in order to be heard, on urgent matters of human life: education, immigration, refugees, prisons, poverty, health care…

…we are bigger and wilder and more precious than numbers, more complex than any economic outcome or political prescription can describe.”  Krista Tippett

“Centering prayer, spiritual direction, retreats, and meditation sat quiet for centuries, largely reserved for “experts,” the cloistered, monks or nuns or dedicated oblates and pilgrims deep inside all of our traditions. Now, even as many Western monastic communities in their traditional forms are growing smaller…..their physical spaces for prayer and retreat are bursting to the seams with modern people retreating for rest and silence and centering. They are learning arts of contemplation to take back into their families and workplaces and communities and schools.” Krista Tippett

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“…there is something deeply built into us that needs story itself. Story is such a source of nurture that we cannot become really true human beings for ourselves and for each other without story – and without finding ways in which to tell it, to share it, to create it…

Do we exist for some reason other than competing with China or finding the best possible technological advances? Are there some things that are even deeper that we are meant for, meant to be, meant to do, meant to achieve?” Vincent Harding

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“We all come from a single source. Everything that lives has its genetic code written in the same alphabet. Unity creates diversity. So don’t think of one God, one truth, one way. Think of one God creating this extraordinary number of ways, the 6,800 languages that are actually spoken. Don’t think there’s only one language within which we can speak to God.”  Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

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“…anybody who travels know that you’re not really doing so in order to move around – you’re traveling in order to be moved. And what you’re seeing is not just the Grand Canyon or the Great Wall but some moods or intimations or places inside yourself that you never ordinarily see when you’re sleepwalking through your daily life.”  Pico Iyer

 

IMG_2987

An enticing sign in front of Browers Bookshop.

 

This post and my last have been a tribute to independent bookstores like Browers Bookshop. Many thanks to Browers for putting Becoming Wise where I could find it.

I picked up an interesting little booklet of two reprinted articles by Ann Patchett with an appendix listing some of her favorite books, called The Care and Feeding of an Independent Bookstore. In it she writes of her own bookstore, Parnassus Books and, by extension, all good bookstores.

“All my life I’ve been telling people what to read. Ask my family, ask my friends. It’s the habit of all passionate readers. When you read a book you love, the experience is not complete until you can turn around and say to someone else, ‘You have to read this book. You will love this book.'”

“Book by book, our customers vote against free overnight shipping in favor of a community of book lovers.”    Ann Patchett, The Care and Feeding of an Independent Bookstore

 

Secret Garden

My temporary secret garden on the Olympic Peninsula. The Strait is beyond the fence.

 

Do you have a favorite bookstore? Tell us about it.

The story of a happy marriage & the right to read

When Ann Patchett came home from school one day, there was a boy she’d never met in the kitchen. Turns out, he was one of four new step siblings. Her mother and his father had married, but they hadn’t yet told the six children who were now part of a blended family.

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage book coverThis might be why Patchett likes to write novels about people from very different walks of life thrown together in extreme circumstances – such as in Bel Canto, my favorite novel of hers about terrorists, an opera singer, and political and business leaders in a hostage situation. (See also my post about State of Wonder.)

It may also have had something to do with why, for a long while, she’d been committed to staying single. Ann’s mother had twice divorced and her grandmother had divorced. In fact, divorce was scattered liberally throughout her family tree.

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage is a collection of Ann Patchett’s personal essays, one of them about her early divorce and her relationship with the man who eventually became her second husband. It’s an honest, personally revealing, and entrancing story about love and commitment.

Marriage is a metaphor for the many happy relationships in Ann’s life, including relationships with her writing, her bookstore, her grandmother, the strong and nurturing Catholic nuns where she went to school, and her dog. There are essays about all of this and more in Ann’s new book, a fine collection of meditations about life, love, and fulfillment.

I especially enjoyed Ann’s essay about writing, “The Getaway Car,” and those of you who write will like it as well. She is not of the school that everyone has one great novel in them, as a woman Ann met at a family reunion insisted. Ann usually has enough good sense to avoid such conversations, but this time she gave in.

“Does everyone have one great floral arrangement in them? One five-minute mile? One algebraic proof?”

“No,” the woman said. But everyone has one great novel in them “because we each have the story of our life to tell.”

Ann does not agree and writes about how difficult it is to convey what we know on paper. This is what she has to say about writing a novel:

“I make up a novel in my head…I don’t take notes or make outlines; I’m figuring things out, and all the while the book makes a breeze around my head like an oversized butterfly whose wings were cut from the rose windows in Notre Dame. This book I have not yet written one word of is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its color, so wild and loyal in its nature that my love for this book and my faith in it as I track its lazy flight, is the single perfect joy in my life…..

…I reach up and pluck the butterfly from the air. I take it from the region of my head and I press it down against my desk, and there, with my own hand, I kill it. It’s not that I want to kill it, but it’s the only way I can get something that is so three-dimensional onto the flat page….Imagine running over a butterfly with an SUV…What I’m left with is a dry husk of my friend, a broken body chipped, dismantled, and poorly reassembled. Dead. That’s my book……The journey from the head to the hand is perilous and lined with bodies.”

It stops most would-be writers cold.

Ann writes about the panic that set in when she sat down to write her first novel at a fine arts retreat, a story she’d been constructing in her imagination for a long while:

“Now that I was sitting still in front of a blank screen, I was appalled by all the things I hadn’t considered….until that minute I had never considered the actual narrative structure….what in the hell had I been doing all that time?”

She was tempted to throw out her idea altogether and start fresh, but an experienced writer told her to stay with her story.

“It was life-saving counsel,” Ann writes. “Without it, I could have spent the next seven months writing the first chapters of eighteen different novels, all of which I would have hated as much as I hated this one.”

There is another essay in the collection, “The Love Between the Two Women Is Not Normal,” that especially stands out for me. Ann had been best friends with Lucy Grealy, the acclaimed author of a memoir, “Autobiography of a Face.”  Lucy had cancer of the jaw at age nine and 38 reconstructive surgeries. She died of a drug overdose, and Ann wrote a book about their friendship, Truth and Beauty. The book had been assigned to the incoming freshman class at Clemson University in 2006, and Ann was invited to speak there at the beginning of the school year.

All was well until a Clemson alum, whose nieces and a nephew were students there, objected to the book assignment. “The book contains a very extensive list of over-the-top sexual and antireligious references…The explicit message that this sends to the students is that they are encouraged to find themselves sexually.”

A hue and cry ensued. Many angry parents wanted another book chosen and Ann’s invitation rescinded, while most of the students and Clemson’s administration supported Ann and the book selection. The Clemson alum held a press conference the day before Ann appeared, distributed copies of bad reviews of her book posted by Amazon readers, and took out a full-page ad in the local paper. The ad, among other things, accused Clemson of the sexual harassment of freshmen students and suggested the assigned reading of Truth and Beauty was insensitive because a Clemson student had recently been raped and murdered.

When the day came for an extremely nervous and alarmed Ann to speak in Clemson’s coliseum, there were protests, and the administration had arranged for her to have a bodyguard. 

Ann has included her Clemson speech, “The Right to Read,” in this collection of essays. Among other things, she said most of the freshmen students were old enough to vote and go to war and could make their own decisions about what to read and how they’d be influenced by it. She pointed out that if they had to be protected from Truth and Beauty, they’d most certainly need to be protected from Lolita and The Great Gatsby and Anna Karenina.

Weeks after her speech, it occurred to Ann many of the students in the audience had likely never read Tolstoy or F. Scott Fitzgerald or Nabokov, and so they probably hadn’t understood what she was talking about.

As for me, I’m disturbed every time I hear about a protest of this nature over a book. If Patchett’s Truth and Beauty can cause such a furor, we live in a frightening world indeed.

Body and mind

What are the pros and cons of getting genetic testing if your parent has Huntington’s Disease? What about dating and relationships?

A resident in the pediatric intensive care unit wants patient education information about shaken baby syndrome and traumatic brain injury.

A mother whose child has just been diagnosed with epilepsy wants to know if a special diet will help.

At teaching rounds, medical students on their first patient rotations are led through the process of making a diagnosis. “He has weakness in his arm and leg,” says the neurologist. “If his symptoms are on the right side, where is the lesion in the brain?”

These are some of the situations I’ve seen as a medical librarian. Sometimes we forget how precious and fragile are our bodies and minds. We can walk, run, speak, love, laugh, cry, sing, read, write, think, create, make plans, give comfort, enjoy a meal with family and friends. Until one day something changes.

I know from personal experience a mind can become irrevocably altered and an identity can vanish seemingly overnight. Which is probably why I am so fascinated by medicine, especially medicine having to do with the brain and behavior.

Here are some of my favorite books (fiction and nonfiction) about illness, recovery, medicine, the search for cures and miracles, and the people caught up in it all: medical professionals, researchers, patients and families. If you follow my blog, a few of the books will be familiar.

FICTION

I Know This Much Is True book cover

I Know This Much is True, by Wally Lamb

“On the afternoon of October 12, 1990, my twin brother Thomas entered the Three Rivers Connecticut Public Library, retreated to one of the rear study carrels, and prayed to God the sacrifice he was about to commit would be deemed acceptable.”

This is the best evocation of schizophrenia I’ve ever read. Wally Lamb is my hero.

By the way, Wally’s newest novel, We Are Water, was just published this month. It is on my nightstand in my little stack of books to read.

Saturday book cover

Saturday, by Ian McEwan

A neurosurgeon. Huntington’s Disease. A home invasion. A poem.

(The poem nestled deep within the plot sparks a crucial turning point. It also happens to be one of my lifelong favorites.)

State of Wonder book cover

State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett

“She was not terrified that the patient would die or she would lose the baby, she was terrified that she was doing something wrong in the eyes of Dr. Swenson.”

“I write with unfortunate news of Dr. Eckman, who died of a fever two nights ago. Given our location, this rain, the petty bureaucracies of government (both this one and  your own), and the time sensitive nature of our project, we chose to bury him here in a manner in keeping with his Christian tradition….Despite any setbacks, we persevere.”

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves book cover

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler

“…I’d made a careful decision to never ever tell anyone about my sister, Fern. Back in those college days I never spoke of her and seldom thought of her…..Though I was only five when she disappeared from my life, I do remember her. I remember her sharply – her smell and touch, scattered images of her face, her ears, her chin, her eyes. Her arms, her feet, her fingers.”

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MEMOIR

God's Hotel book cover

God’s Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine, by Victoria Sweet

Inspired by Hildegard of Bingen (12th century German mystic and medical practitioner), as well as her own instinct for compassionate, attentive care, Dr. Sweet practices “slow medicine” at the last almshouse in the U.S. as it transitions to the modern age. We should all have a physician like Dr. Sweet.

My Beautiful Genome book cover

My Beautiful Genome, by Lone Frank

“…we are each of us temporary depositories of information that has an almost eternal life, and which is passed on and on and on…”

“I am what I do with the beautiful information that has flowed through millions of years through billions of organisms and has, now, finally been entrusted to me.”

Every reader has a “My Bookstore”

Just had to tell you about a new book to be released on November 13 by Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop, edited by Ronald Rice with an introduction by Richard Russo.

My Bookstore features essays by 84 authors, including Ann Patchett, Ian Frazier, Chuck Palahniuk, Rick Bragg, and Terry Tempest Williams.

So far, I’ve visited three of the bookstores: Powell’s in Portland, Oregon; Elliot Bay Book Company in Seattle (see my post about Elliot Bay and a few other Washington bookstores); and The Strand in New York City.

Looks like California and New York are well represented, as you might expect. Sorry to see nothing listed for Cleveland (my hometown) or Rochester, NY.  Suggestions, anyone?

I’m adding this book to my holiday wish list.

Oh, and if you have a favorite bookstore, tell us in the comments.

Facing your heart of darkness for love: State of Wonder

StateofWonder.jpg

“She was not terrified that the patient would die or she would lose the baby, she was terrified that she was doing something wrong in the eyes of Dr. Swenson.”

 

Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder is about a life severely, intentionally curtailed.

Marina Singh is a successful scientist conducting important research at a pharmaceutical company. Only she knows that long ago she’d bailed out of her own life.

When Marina was a chief resident in obstetrics, she performed a complicated delivery that ended badly. There was a lawsuit. Her marriage to a fellow resident dissolved. She wasn’t asked to leave the residency program, but she felt compelled to punish herself and leave on her own.

That way, she never had to face her classmates, or patients, or the brilliant, intimidating Dr. Swenson, again.  Anick Swenson had been the attending physician on call the day of the crisis. All the medical students both revered and feared her.

“She was harder on the women…She would tell them stories of her own days in medical school and how when she came along the men knit their arms together to keep her out. They made a human barricade against her, they kicked at her when she climbed over them, and now all the women were just walking through, no understanding or appreciation for the work that had been done for them.”

Marina never told her mother why she abruptly decided not to become a doctor. She never told her lover, Mr. Fox, who is president of the pharmaceutical company she works for. She never told her close friend and colleague, Anders Eckman, who has just died of fever in the Amazon jungle.

Now, Anders’ wife has begged Marina to find out what she can about Anders’ death and retrieve his body. And Mr. Fox has asked her to check on the progress of a top secret research project being conducted by none other than Dr. Swenson, who makes it a practice of remaining incommunicado.

Marina doesn’t want to set foot in the jungle, and she doesn’t want to see Dr. Swenson. But she goes, because she cares deeply for Anders, who has left behind a wife and three young boys.

Here is the particular nugget of the story I keep coming back to:

“The great, lumbering guilt that slept inside of her at every moment of her life had shifted, stretched.”

Marina has suffered and continues to suffer deeply, even though her suffering is hidden away. She knows what she’s lost. She was a bright, capable young woman who wanted to devote herself to caring for women and helping them bring new life into the world. Yet in the space of a few hours she walked away from it all. She’d spent the greater part of her adult life only half alive, using a fraction of her potential. She seems to be very much alone; she holds the other people in her life at a distance, and she settles for a less than fulfilling relationship with Mr. Fox.

Marina has never gotten over her past. She locked it away in a dark corner of her mind and got on with life. Facing her demons is the psychological story within the story of Marina’s journey into the Amazon jungle. It turns a plot driven novel into something more urgent and real for the reader, even if the reader is only half aware of it.

This fusing of outward adventure and inner journey is what ultimately made it impossible not to follow Marina into the darkness. I revisited some of my own life issues as Marina revisited hers.

I admire Marina, but not all of the decisions she makes as her story unfolds, and that’s as it should be when reading about a character who is real, alive.

The essential story in this book, for me, is the reclaiming of a life. By the end of the story, I was different.  Not in a dramatic way, but nonetheless something had shifted.  A truly great book such as this one stays with me and continues to wield its power. And I can’t begin to measure the impact of many books read over a lifetime.

Some people say the book is in danger of disappearing. But in a recent essay, Timothy Egan writes that people are actually reading more and buying more books. I think we will always hunger for the power of story and the collective wisdom of the great writers and thinkers.

 

 

Blue mushrooms and yellow tree bark – what would you do? State of Wonder

I write with unfortunate news of Dr. Eckman, who died of a fever two nights ago. Given our location, this rain, the petty bureaucracies of government (both this one and your own), and the time sensitive nature of our project, we chose to bury him here in a manner in keeping with his Christian tradition….Despite any setbacks, we persevere.

The letter writer, Dr. Annick Swenson, is a fearless force of nature.

Marina Singh, the protagonist, is not.

Watching the relationship between these two women unfold in Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder was one reason I couldn’t stop turning the pages.

If you’ve read the book or are in the process of reading it, I’d like to know what you think about these two women. Do you like them? Do they change as the story unfolds? For better or for worse?

What do you think about their relationship with men? I found myself comparing Dr. Swenson’s relationship with Dr. Rapp to Marina’s relationship with the men in her life, especially her father and Mr. Fox.

Any thoughts about Marina’s nightmares, induced by taking a drug to prevent malaria?

The conventional roles of mother, father, friend, lover, husband, wife, and child seem to become less strictly defined and more fluid as the story unfolds. What do you think about that?  Consider the Lakashi tribe, too.

What exactly was Easter all about? What do you think of the way Marina, Dr. Swenson, and other characters treated him?

Many of Patchett’s characters must make difficult moral choices. Do you agree with the choices they made? Do any surprise or upset you?

We encounter addicting yellow tree bark, blue mushrooms with hidden power, and lavender moths unlike any other species of moth. What do you make of how the characters responded to these discoveries? What would you do?

Please tell me what you think about any of this in the comments below. There are bound to be disagreements – the more discussion, the better!

What Albert Einstein Said to a Girl
It occurred to me that the books I’ve featured on this blog have so far been about strong, independent women departing from traditional roles.  When I was checking my email subscriptions before I wrote this post, I found this:
Albert Einstein once had a correspondence with a young girl who wanted to be a scientist. She regretted the fact that she was a girl but said she’d grown resigned to it. She hoped Einstein wouldn’t think less of her for being female.
You can read his reply in Brain Pickings, a website about creativity that I like, in a post about women in science.

The letter is from Dear Professor Einstein: Albert Einstein’s Letters To and From Children.

The quote at the beginning of this post is from State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, HarperCollins Books, 2011

Let’s read Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder

A handful of surprises await you in Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder.

Patchett has a way of blindsiding you with plot twists and moral dilemmas that leave you confused, off balance, maybe even a little pissed off. You’re left wondering – would that character really do that? In her situation, what would you do?

Some background: I became a medical librarian as a second career, and an unexpected pleasure has been working with medical students, nursing students, and residents just getting started in their careers.

About half of the medical students I meet are women. Back in the day, a couple of my female college friends became physicians, but they were the exception rather than the rule, and I don’t think most of us had the level of confidence I see in young women today.

I love seeing the amazing energy and commitment of today’s students, yet I know every day they are under an incredible amount of stress. That’s one of the reasons I was drawn to Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder.

It’s about a young obstetrics resident, Marina, who makes a terrible mistake that causes her to abandon medicine. The book picks up years later, when she travels alone into the Amazon jungle to investigate the death of her lab partner and fulfill a mission for the pharmaceutical company she works for.

Her mistake continues to cast a shadow over her life.

State of WonderThe other reason I was drawn to this book is, quite simply, I love everything Ann Patchett writes.  I’ve been a fan ever since Bel Canto.

It was the featured title a few years back in an annual event here, “If All of Rochester Read the Same Book.” Ann visited Rochester for three days and gave readings and talks at local schools and in the community.

When State of Wonder was published, she returned to Rochester and I attended one of her readings. The scene she read featured a terrifying encounter with an anaconda. You could have heard a pin drop.

Ann talked about a trip she took to the Amazon and how she got the idea for the scene, and the book. Turns out she had her own encounter with an anaconda, and she shared a few choice details about that with us. Such as the fact that the serpent smell was so strong, she had to throw away the clothes she’d been wearing.  Every last stitch.

Ann Patchett said she didn’t like the Amazon. It was creepy and she wasn’t going back any time soon.

Which gives you some idea of what Marina is faced with in State of Wonder. Marina is a strong woman (though she doesn’t know it). In a sense, the great mistake of her youth follows her into the jungle and this time she can’t avoid dealing with it.

The neat thing about this book is, you can travel to the Amazon jungle without taking any of the risks, just by slipping inside Marina’s skin.

It’s one hell of a trip.

I’m going to start (re)reading State of Wonder this weekend. Won’t you join me? Please take a couple of weeks to get started and we’ll meet back here the second half of April to talk.

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