Snow Day!

Mornings on Horseback
by David McCullough

I was intrigued with McCullough’s premise–to unfold TR’s life to the point where he “came to be” the TR we know from history. And so McCullough writes of Roosevelt up to his run for mayor of New York. I have to admit I knew so little of Roosevelt–mainly, the caricature we have of him in our 8th grade history books: he of the spectacles, bushy mustache, and toothy grin. So with a day off school after we were blanketed with 10 inches of snow, I finally finished the biography I’ve been chipping away at since Christmas.

McCullough spends a great deal of time on TR’s incredible childhood. Wrapped in love and privilege, his interests in science and nature were nurtured and encouraged–in part, because his frequent asthma attacks sometimes brought him to death’s door. Small, bookish, incessantly curious, and wonderously intelligent, Thee (as family called him) was adored by his sisters and brother. The family of six (plus the requisite servants) toured Europe for a year and spent months on the Nile.

I also had no idea that Roosevelt was married to the beautiful Alice, only to lose her four days after the birth of their child. It was in the three years after her death that he spent in Dakota, living the life of a rancher. Baby Alice was left in the care of her Aunt Bamie. Pushing himself to the brink physically, Roosevelt drove cattle, chopped wood, and hunted grizzlies at a furious pace in an attempt to bury his grief. TR never spoke again publicly about his first wife and felt he had failed when he married again three years later. He had hoped to “he would never remarry–as a testimony of love for his beautiful, dead wife, his first and only great love.”

A page later and the book is ended–TR is off to England to marry his second wife, Edith Carow; he has just lost the race for mayor of New York. McCullough felt that at that moment, the historical Roosevelt was finally formed and he would go on to become the Rough Rider, Governor, Secretary of Navy, Vice President, and, finally, President who made his mark on American history.

Next up: The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker

This ‘n that


Comfort Food
by Kate Jacobs

If a book could be a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup, this novel by Kate Jacobs would be just that. Nothing special, no fancy twists or turns–but satisfying all the same in a … comfort food kind of way. Rather typical chick lit, we’ve got the single mom (a widow this time), a young woman with a mysterious past, an even younger beauty queen trying to scratch and claw her way to fame, and, of course, the requisite hunk. What probably made the book work for me was the fact that the main character had a show on the CookingChannel–a slightly veiled stand-in for the Food Network. As a foodie who follows any number of celebrity chefs, part of the charm of the novel was trying to spot “my” celebrity chefs in the novel–but I have to admit the connections were pretty limited. If you’re in the (reading) mood for a light snack, Kate Jacobs novel just might hit the spot.

Too many books, too little time


–for blogging, at least. Sometimes frugal to a fault I hesitated buying this NPR recommended book–but my husband ordered off my wish list as a bit of “Happy Winter Break” reading material and it’s definitely a keeper. While I was initially drawn in by the stories of the help, it was Skeeter Phelan’s story that continued to draw the narrative forward. The lives of Abileen and Minny didn’t really change (although we understood with the death of Medgar Evars that Change was on the way), but Skeeter, a Junior League member standing just on the outside of the Southern Belle circle, evolved as she took down the stories of the colored women who served her family and the families of the other League members.

Skeeter begins her journey mourning the loss of the black woman who raised her and also her status as a “spinster” at age twenty-four. Thinking that since marriage wasn’t currently an option she’d find meaning in a career, Skeeter gets a part-time job at the local newspaper writing a household advice column. Knowing nothing about homemaking (since the help had done all things domestic in her family) Skeeter turns to Abileen, the maid of her best friend for help. Ablileen provides the substance Skeeter needs to write her column–and ends up throwing Skeeter the lifeline she needs. We see Skeeter as she comes to understand the lives of the black women she lived with side-by-side, as she gives up her chase to find a husband, as she throw off the propriety of the fifties to embrace the freedom of the sixties.

A compelling good read.

To be continued …

Finn
by Jon Clinch

I’ve prevaricated and stalled, I’ve come to a standstill, postponed, and delayed writing another post about Finn–and last night I finally gave myself permission to put it on hold until I’m not in school. I think during the school year I’ll need to go light and, if not exactly, cheerful, then at least redeeming in some way. Now I’m not saying that Finn won’t end on some revealing and uplifting note (though I have my doubts), and I’m not one who has to read all things sweetness and light. But I came to the conclusion that it was just too much right now. So I’m off into Kate Jacob’s world again in Comfort Food.

Finn, the story of Huck Finn’s father, is dark and menacing. We see the Widow Douglas, the huckster preacher, and the judge who welcomed Finn into his house in an attempt to reform him–all through Finn’s eyes. Though the boy Huck does appear in the book at the halfway point, he is a flat character–almost a placeholder. It is Finn’s twisted mind and sinister spirit that prevail, and we see him battling his cold and powerful father, falling into a relationship with a slave, and conceiving a son by her. Yes, Huck is, in Clinch’s novel, biracial–he is Huckberry because at birth he was dark as a huckleberry. A strange twist, a bit unbelievable, but certainly fitting in this novel. Sometimes poignant, often violent, and misogynistic throughout, Finn is a heavy read. And so I’ll need to return another day.

To the lake: Crow Lake (review)


Crow Lake
by Mary Lawson

I started reading Crow Lake the Friday before school started and put it down reluctantly after only a few chapters–and, of course, the busyness of the new year kept it lying on my dresser for the past five days. With B. gone all day, I was able to take it up again–and couldn’t stop.

The hinted-at Greek tragedy wasn’t as monumental as I would have thought–although, I suppose, that just may have been Lawson’s point. Kate Morrison took her brother’s fate to a realm that was more her fantasy than his reality, and so what she leads us to believe is a tragic fate is simply … life happening. Lest I sound glib about orphaned children, an unplanned pregnancy, murder, and a university education left behind, the “life happening” was difficult. But difficult in the way that our lives are messy, complicated, and often fall short of our expectations.

What I found most disturbing was Kate’s emotional vacuum–until I realized that I’ve done the same when living through a crisis. In fact, I would be hard-pressed to recall my own emotional life during those years of single-parenthood. Most compelling was Kate’s realization that the family history she had created was more fiction than fact–based on the life she had wanted them all to live, on the people she had wanted them to be. That’s probably the single-most important lesson I’ve learned in the past several years–that love is much easier (and rich and satisfying) when you love the person who IS, not the person you think you want them to be.

Crow Lake is a good read–and Lawson’s insight is spot on.