Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hypothermia is Intriguing, Meteorology is Not.

In three minutes the front subtracted 18 degrees [Fahrenheit] from the air's temperature.   Before midnight, windchills were down to 40 below zero.  That's when the killing happened.

The Children's Blizzard is the foreboding title that came to rest upon the blizzard that raged through the American Dakotas on the evening of January 12, 1888.  The next morning, Friday the 13th as luck would have it, brought terrible news to many families.  Scores of children across the prairies had not been able to make it home from school, nor to safety anywhere.  The storm had caught them unaware and unprepared.

This book was a fascinating look into harsh pioneer winters.  From the background on why immigration was so high (hello, propoganda) to the living conditions and weather conditions, Laskin provides a clear look at the 1880s prairie.  As somehow who grew up reading Laura Ingalls Wilder, and finding The Long Winter (1881) so very, very long, I enjoyed the trip back to those days, gaining a deeper and more thorough appreciation for the trials they faced.

History is not the only topic discussed,  meteorology and hypothermia are also addressed.  My eyes glazed over during the chapters about barometers, isobars, cyclostyles, and whaaa????  {blink}  But I found the stages of hypothermia quite interesting—how the body fights for life without one's conscious thought or effort is fascinating to me.

Of course, this book is full of sad stories...but I think the title is enough to make you expect that.  Any time innocent people die it is a tragedy.  But topic aside, I did have a few issues with the construction of the book.  The writing is inconsistent:  at times poignant, at others overly complicated or vague.  Also, organization—vital in nonfiction—was not strong.  There were in-depth portions about people or things that mattered little, and fascinating points only touched upon, which resulted in an unbalanced feel.  The good news is that the 270-odd pages go by pretty quickly, even if you do read the boring parts.  If you have a passing fancy in immigrant or prairie life, this book is worth a passing glance.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Virago, you say?

"Yes, we'll have to put a stop to this bookworming.  No future in that."

Every once in a while I stumble across a treasure: a book written in fairly recent years that holds all the style and charm of a book written long ago.  This happened recently when I inadvertently came across Good Behaviour by Molly Keane (a Virago Modern Classic) while shopping at Book Depository.

It was short, sweet, and brilliant in many ways.  Published in 1981, but set in the decaying aristocracy of an Anglo-Irish family in the 1920s[ish], this book had that perfect combination of melancholy and wit that I've come to appreciate in Irish literature.

It was a wonderfully vivid story.  Plus, the cover art is terrific, am I right?  Our main character, Aroon St. Charles, doesn't know half of what you, as the reader, will catch on to, which is both terribly intriguing and terribly sad.  You see, Aroon isn't the most attractive or astute character you'll meet, though through her you will discover a vivid, distinguished world that she wishes she belongs in...and there is humor to boot (what more could I ask for?)

So, you veterans of Virago, tell me:
  • what you love about Virago
  • why I should read more
  • whether this book is characteristic of what I can hope to expect
  • where I go next!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Not much happened in October

What can I say about October?  There certainly isn't much to record, though I am starting to feel as if I'm finally on the rebound somewhat.  Not a terribly wonderful time of year to rebound properly, but I'll take what I can get.  Maybe I'll start dreaming about 2013 goals - that should get me going!  I am getting antsy to talk about the few books I have read, and unpack my boxes of books & get myself in focus.  For now, here's the deal:

2 Books Read in October: (85 year-to-date)
1 for Book Club:
  - The Kitchen House, Kathleen Grissom (3.5)
1 Just Because:
  - Good Behaviour, Molly Keane (4)


1 DNF:
Definitely a case of bad timing, and possibly a style clash as well, but I completely failed to meet my obligation of reading Redemption Falls for the discussion I was supposed to have in October.  I simply couldn't do it.  I'm not the only one, apparently, to compare this work to James Joyce (with whose writing I'm not exactly enamoured).

What I said
What the Guardian said

1 Current Reads:
  - Last Night at the Lobster, Stewart O'Nan.  Because it is tiny and therefore approachable right now, and because Ti @ Book Chatter loves O'Nan (& she has great taste in books.)

On My Nightstand:
My current plan of attack?  Find all the miniscule books I own, put those on my nightstand.  Perhaps I'll be able to finish something if it is only 150 pages.  I do need to finish Annie Dunne, but it is a quiet, lyrical book that takes a wee bit of attention.  Other possibilities?  A Lost Lady by Willa Cather, and possibly some of those Indiespensable reads.