Station Eleven

img_9223Date Read: February 15 to 23, 2019

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

From the beginning, I was completely enthralled by this book. I have read a fair share of dystopian fiction, but this had a different feel to it that I immediately loved. Rather than a long view into the future, we enter the new world just 20 years from the world as we know it. I love that we get to see the before, after, and during the fall of civilization. The mix of characters in the Traveling Symphony adds another interesting aspect– we have a group varied enough in age that there are those who were adults and children at the time of the fall, and then also a few characters who have known no other world than their present.

While the plot is not exactly full of action, it was gripping enough that I constantly wanted to find out what was going to happen next. There is a bit of perspective jumping, which I sometimes find annoying as a reader, but was done very well in this case. As I mentioned, there are three different timelines running through the book– before, after, and during the outbreak of an epidemic illness. In addition, there are several characters that carry over from each of these time periods, each with somewhat overlapping narratives. Each time the perspective or time changed, I found myself feeling two things: disappointed to be leaving the current perspective, but excited to find out what the next character had been up to while I had been otherwise occupied.

One thing that I personally found interesting here was the setting– in particular the geography. A fair amount of time is spent describing the route taken by the Traveling Symphony, including the names of cities that we recognize, as well as a few “new” cities that were recreated after the collapse. I loved that there were some concrete locations that I know for certain, and just enough clues to piece together a real picture of the area that they are traveling. I admit I may be a bit biased– I am fairly convinced that much of the action in the “after” portion of the novel occurs right in my own backyard (so to speak). Based on the information included, I am quite certain that the “Severn City” mentioned as a destination must be Grand Rapids, MI. It’s not an exact fit, but too close to be anything else either.

Moving a bit away from the actual story, while I was reading this book I also heard a new song on the radio, and the two will now forever be linked in my mind: Come Along by Cosmo Sheldrake (you can hear it here). Something about the style and story of the song fits so well with Station Eleven. Even though they are certainly a more classical group, I can imagine the Traveling Symphony playing and sing as they move from town to town. Of course, it is not an exact fit (much less of a fit than my conclusions on geography), but something about this link just seems right to me. Each time I heard it on the radio, it made me want to rush home to read a bit more!

Boris’s thoughts: “This all sounds rather complicated. I’m glad you enjoyed it though. 3 paws.”

Educated

img_9128Date Read: February 2 to 15, 2019

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

Educated was my book for February’s prompt fromĀ The Unread Shelf Project: a book that was gifted to me. I received this for Christmas from a friend who also works in education. While I had seen the book many times before then, I really did not know much about it. It was described to me as a book by a woman who did not have any formal education until she was 17.

That description hits on the general premise, but there is much more here than I had expected. Although it centers on the theme of education, the scope of this book goes well beyond that. I think what stands out the most here is actually the overcoming of a traumatic and abusive past. It’s interesting to see Tara’s own view of her past, her struggling in how to view her own place in the world– is she part of her family, or is she part of the rest of the world? One of the things that seemed most striking to me, was actually fairly subtle. As Tara reflects back on many of the obviously traumatic ordeals from her childhood, she does not often overtly refer to her experiences as abuse.

Tara does much reflection on the fact of her pursuit of education creating the rift between her and her past. She makes many efforts to minimize the growing distance between her and the remainder of her family. Along the way, she catches herself hanging on to pieces that she really no longer believes– such as when she realizes that even though she is accepting of modern medicine, she has not gone to get her vaccinations. However, I found it interesting that throughout her education, she still hangs on to the original tenants of her Mormonism. While she relaxes some of the extremes in her personal practices, she retains the basis of her religion, and even extends this into her educational pursuits.

Boris’s thoughts: “Long stretches of reading means long stretches of naps for me, so 3 paws here!”

Cannery Row

img_8918Date Read: January 20 to February 2, 2019

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

Cannery Row is not so much a novel, as a capturing of a moment in time. Light on plot, but heavy in description, it features dozens of characters that each play a part (however small) in the central story. Although there’s a long and winding road to get there, the main story centers on the planning of a party for Doc, orchestrated by Mack and the boys, a group of homeless men who have taken over an old warehouse. Their initial plan is ill conceived and leads to minor disaster, but eventually circles around through the community for a happier ending.

Taking place in a relatively quiet California coastal town during the Great Depression, the story is told through a series of vignettes of various length. There are some clearly driving the plot, and others that link to the main story in ways that are not obvious as you are reading. The style gives the book a inextricable feeling of community. The small details of each moment, the strings of each life in Monterey interwoven.

Part of what is interesting to me, is that each character seems to know their place and their part in the scheme of their own world. Most are destitute, but content where they are. Mack and the boys certainly know what they need to do to improve their situation, but are content to get by with life as it is. They have a roof over their heads, the little dog Darling to care for, and just enough niceties to make the Palace Flophouse home. Another character I found interesting was the woman who loves to throw parties, but cannot afford to actually put on a party herself. When she’s not able to help in planning for others, she contents herself with tea parties with the neighborhood cats. Well, why not?

Boris’s thoughts: “I am concerned with the collecting of cats for Doc… but would really enjoy a tea party, so I’ll even it out: 2 paws.”

 

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

img_9312You may have heard of it before, but in case you missed it… March is Reading Month! While I personally celebrate reading year round, I think it’s appropriate that we give some special recognition to one of the most famous authors of all time during his birthday month. To kick of the month, I decided to share one of my favorites from Dr. Seuss: One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.

Dr. Seuss is known for clever rhymes for beginning readers, and adding in a bit of weird silliness. I love weird silliness. While many of his books are built around simplicity (did you know the Cat in the Hat uses only 220 different words?), this is not one of those books. It holds true to the verse and rhyme characteristic of Seuss, and is extra heavy on the silliness, including a huge variety of nonsense words. There is a loose plot through the book (description of all the things that the narrator is seeing), but the focus is more on the rhyme and some fun play in the verses. There are opposites with illustrations, rhymes, tongue twisters, and some other structurally interesting verses tied in. One of my favorites is a page spread that has a poem on opposing pages, told in reverse order with accompanying upside down illustrations.

I see this is the perfect book to read aloud with early readers, and to encourage them to take a turn in the reading. The rhymes are silly and fun, and most of the book is decodable (i.e., you can sound it out). The rhyming makes it somewhat predictable, but there is still a variety in the structure of the verses that keeps it interesting. I especially like the nonsense words– one of the strategies we often teach kids is to look at the sounds, and think about the words that they know. While this can be a good strategy, it doesn’t always work. It relies on a strong vocabulary. I love the opportunity for kids to practice a skill, but to learn that sometimes things that sound silly or wrong, might actually be right. Oh, and what a perfect ending for a bedtime story– on the very last page of the story, it is time to go to sleep!

Boris’s thoughts: “I think you’re over-analyzing this, but I can get behind these rhymes. 4 paws.”