Thursday, October 29, 2015

Others Had It Worse by Vetra Melrose Padget Covert and Chris D. Baker

I picked it up because the cover and title peeked my interest in the human condition. How do people survive adverse times? How is it that some people enjoy life even in the worst of times? I saw that the book was a true account of a family living in Davis County, Iowa. So I checked it out.
Not a big book- but fascinating. A grandson decides to try and collect information from his grandmother before her death. She begins to writer her earliest memories and goes from there. The book is compiled of her writings. Short snippets offering a glimpse into the life of another human being. Not an easy life - poor, and a father who made moonshine for money and also consumed the fruits of his labor. (Not such a good thing for the family.) As the title implies, the girl survives, and manages to have happy memories as well. They actually had fun. Maybe when you have nothing, even the smallest of events can bring great happiness. The pros and cons of having money. What's the perfect balance of living comfortably, but still having joy in little things? Maybe by studying the lives of those who have gone before us, we can gain insight.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Barbarian Days - A Surfing Life by William Finnegan

There aren't too many of us land-bound Pellans who are actively surfing the waves these days. Don't let that stop you, however, from reading William Finnegan's Barbarian Days - A Surfing Life. It is a quest for the ultimate wave; a quest for finding oneself; and, a quest for seeing just what the world has to offer.
Finnegan started surfing as a child, but his family's move to Hawaii kicked his surfing bug into gear. His adventures span the 1960s through today, with a large part of his life spent bumming around the world, searching for the ultimate waves. During that time he was holding up odd jobs; living on little to no income; and, encountering new sections of the world, its people and their customs.
You don't have to know one thing about surfing to enjoy this book. Finnegan's vivid descriptions have you right there with him, out on the waves. His details of those he encounters are just as descriptive and thought provoking. For me, there was also this feel of loneliness and uncertainty to the tale as the author looked to figure out both the world, and himself.
If you are a reader of the New Yorker, you have encountered some of Finnegan's work before as he is on staff and a regular contributor to the magazine.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman

I learned about the father of Impressionism, Camille Pissarro, in Hoffman's latest historical fiction.  Pissarro's talent is obvious in Hoffman's portrayal.  Yet, it is Rachel, his mother and her determination to follow her heart and defy all conventions after her first husband dies that is most indelible. 
Set in the island of St. Thomas in the 1800s of a Jewish refugees community where Rachel grows up fulfilling her father's request to marry a widower in order to save the family's business.  I am transported to a tropical paradise but am reminded of the inequality, slavery and racism on the island that is supposedly outlawed by Danish rule.  Hoffman weaves in many layers and family secrets in the novel, with Rachel's dream of being in Paris someday because of her ancestry, the relationships with her parents, her children, the friendship with her childhood friend Justine and her courage and need to be validated despite her scandalous second marriage to her true love Frederick.  It is a good read.