Wednesday, July 2, 2014

June 2014 Books

I'm taking a break from the spiritually-focused books over the past few months and have yearned for good literary fiction.

Yin, Yang, Yogini: A Woman's Quest for Balance, Strength and Inner Peace by Kathryn E. Livingston
Published: 2014
Rating: 2.5

I found this book at the local library and could not resist as I have recently added daily yoga/meditation to my self-care habits - along with getting a good night's sleep, eating well and teaching spinning classes 3 times per week.

It is a memoir of a middle-aged writer who lost her mom two weeks after 9/11.  She is married to a musician and has three boys.  Her writing style is open, honest and engaging but the chronology is difficult to follow.  I think she takes two yoga classes a week and chronicles life via the classes.

I am listening to another memoir of a woman who lost her mother (Wild by Cheryl Strayed) and it is interesting to compare and contrast.  Wild is much better on so many fronts.

I am reticent to write this negative review but it does make me understand what I look for in a well-written memoir: depth, emotional connection, understanding of why someone acts the way they do, their decision-making process, etc.  Sadly, Livingston did not deliver.

  • not very deep 
  • I was hoping for more regarding how she handled the grief of her mother's passing
  • she is an extremely anxious mother - we learn it stems from having anxious parents but why was she so anxious?
  • she looked to yoga as a way to handle anxiety versus medication.  As one who sees the value of medication for mental illnesses, I found her comments to be stigmatizing. 
  • why her obsession with the headstand/handstand poses?
  • she is extremely anxious yet very social (seems incongruent)
  • does she exaggerate her phobias in this memoir?   Seems like if she really did have these issues, she would be incapacitated and stuck. 
  • for someone who has gone through a major loss, she seems very superficial.
  • whininess regarding boys leaving home for college was annoying
  • even when diagnosed with breast cancer, I did not feel any connection to her words.  It did not feel like she was writing from a deep, emotional place.
At the end of the day, she claims that yoga has transformed her into an awakened soul.  She is a firm believer in the healing powers of meditation regarding her breast cancer, lucky in just needing a lumpectomy and radiation, not chemo or mastectomy.  She is a more calm and centered being having found strength, balance, peace, self-awareness and self-love through yoga. 

This I can relate to. 

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Published: 2002
2003 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Rating: 4

First line is a doozy:   I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.

The third paragraph of the first chapter starts with: But now, at the age of forty-one, I feel another birth coming on.

So this is a literary fictional memoir (could this be a new genre?) of a man who works for the U.S. State Department, is unmarried, changes countries of residence every three years and who finds relationships and intimacy difficult and complicated.

As the protagonist and narrator, Cal is believable.  He does not hold back.  His aim to to tell his story by tracing the gene mutation which produces hermaphrodites (herself/himself) two generations - back to his grandparent's ill-fated marriage.

It is also a story of love: falling madly in love, guilty love, what unrequited love will cause one to do, the fear of love, the evaporation of love.  There are intensely romantic, erotic and intimate scenes (think clarinet against a body).

It is a "coming of age" story - a time that is difficult for most people but even more complicated for Calliope.

It is tragedy - reminding me of the Greek tragedies from Sophocles or Euripides.

All in all, it is about the human condition, as all great literary fiction portrays:  birth, death and re-birth, love - consummated or not and the consequences of each, coming of age (innocence, ignorance, questioning, acceptance), intersex and its own complications (shame, stigma, isolation, victimization) and sexual discovery.

There are metaphysical elements that Eugenides employes which are absolutely believable.

As the narrator, Cal is very aware of the reader and at various times, speaks directly to us.

I have read his first published book, Virgin Suicides which was so-so.   I would recommend Middlesex.

What really mattered in life, what gave it weight, was death.
My mother used to say that the umbilical cord attaching her to her children had never been completely cut.  As soon as Dr. Philobosiam had severed the cord of flesh, another, spiritual connection had grown in its place….all this came in a kind of singing along the invisible cord, a singing such as whales do, crying out to one another in the deep.

Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell #1) by Hilary Mantel
Published: 2009
2009 Man Booker Award
Rating: 4

I have started and stopped this book at least three times and decided one and for all that I would finish and see what all the hullaballoo was all about (winning of Man Booker award).

Somewhat familiar with Henry VIII's interesting life (from Philippa Gregory's historical fictions), I found Mantel's book slow going.  It took a while to get accustomed to her use of "he" instead of "I" as the protagonist and narrator Thomas Cromwell, a man who rose to become King Henry's behind-the-scenes, right hand man and therefore very influential in his court.

The pace and my interest picked up towards the end so despite thinking half-way through that I would NOT read the 2nd book in the trilogy, Bring Up the Bodies, I have in fact, downloaded the ibook and am fascinated to see what other royals he, Cromwell,  manages to manipulate in his ultra smooth manner.

Some favorite quotes are at the end of the book:

Thomas Cromwell's MO.  I wonder if Mantel wrote this early on as part of Cromwell's character sketch and had it posted next to her computer while writing.
It is weak to be anecdotal. It is wise to conceal the past even if there is nothing to conceal. A man's power is in the half-light, in the half-seen movements of his hand and the un-guessed at expression of his face.  It is the absence of facts that frightens people; the gap you open, into which they pout their fears, fantasies, desires.
He ponders the dead - of which he knows many and has been the cause of many:
It's the living that turn and chase the dead.  The long bones and souls are tumbled from their shrouds, and words like stones thrust into their rattling mouths; we edit their writings, we re-write their lives.

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