Nov 30, 2007

Ordinary Wolves

by Seth Kantner

Conservation, consumerism and identity are central themes running through Ordinary Wolves. Cutuk Hawcly is a white boy raised in a sod igloo on a riverbank in the northern Alaska wilderness. When his siblings grow up they both leave for the city. Cutuk attempts to follow, moving first to the Native village where he is teased and ostracized for being white. After much trepidation he continues to Anchorage, where he finds the noise, bustle and waste of city life unsettling. Unable to fit in there either, he finally returns to his father's home on the riverbank where he finds that during his absence, civilization has been encroaching upon the wilderness he loves. This is a great book, vividly depicting the harsh reality of life in Alaska and what happens when the native Inupiaq culture runs up against modern lifestyles.

I thought it might be a matter of interest, in the spirit of "rolling" to mention what book titles I gleaned from Ordinary Wolves to add to my TBR:

From Where the Sun Now Stands- Will Henry
The Endurance- Caroline Alexander
Journals of Samuel Hearne
Hell's Bottom, Colorado- Laura Pritchett
The Tree of Red Stars- Tessa Bridal
Empress of One- Faith Sullivan
Larabi's Ox- Tony Ardizzone
Blue Taxis- Eileen Drew

Rating: 4/5 ........ 324 pages, 2004

Nov 29, 2007

Meme: Rolling

Question from Booking Through Thursday:
Do you get on a roll when you read, so that one book leads to the next, which leads to the next, and so on and so on?

I don’t so much mean something like reading a series from beginning to end, but, say, a string of books that all take place in Paris. Or that have anthropologists as the main character. Or were written in the same year. Something like that… Something that strings them together in your head, and yet, otherwise could be different genres, different authors.

Yes. All the time. This is the reason behind my ever-growing never-ending TBR lists. There are many different things that spark one book leading to the next. Sometimes I like the author so much I immediately looking up something else they wrote. If there are books or authors mentioned in the text that sound interesting, I move on to those. If the book has a reference index I usually comb through that looking for more new titles (which may or may not be on the same subject). Often if the subject is interesting I'll go find more books on the same idea, and read say, six in a row about wolves, or immigration experiences, or autism. Usually my interest wanes before I've read all the books in the list that derives from the first book, so then the titles go into the TBR to wait. The most new titles I glean from reading a book has been twenty-something; of which I probably only read two or three before moving on to a new subject.

The Only Alien on the Planet

by Kristen Randle

This is a superbly written young adult novel. One I literally couldn't put down. The characters and conversations are very realistic, the depictions of events and concerns in high school ring true. The Only Alien on the Planet is about a girl named Ginny whose family moves during her senior year. She adjusts to her new school and makes friends with the boy next door, Caulder. Before long another neighborhood boy catches her attention: Michael, nicknamed "Smitty." At school and home, Smitty never says a word, never responds when people talk to him, never changes his facial expression. Yet he's evidently very smart, earning As and scoring high on all tests at school. The other kids call him The Alien and pretty much ignore him. Caulder gets Ginny involved in a mission to discover why Smitty is always silent and get him to speak. At first I thought Smitty was an autistic savant, but it turns out his silence resulted from psychological abuse. Near the end the story started to loose its credibility, but by then I cared so much about the characters I could overlook the faults. A very intriguing and captivating story.

Rating: 4/5                 228 pages, 1996

Nov 28, 2007

Sasha's Tail

Lessons from a Life with Cats
by Jaqueline Damian

If you're not fond of cats, you probably won't find this book interesting. For those of us who love the felines in our lives, Sasha's Tail is a great book! Not just a rehash of cat stories, it has a literary flair and fluid writing style. It doesn't follow a chronological order, but is more along the lines of a collection of reminisces and reflections on events in the author's life with cats; arranged more or less by subject. She talks about growing up with cats and moving from city to country with her current long-haired black cat, Sasha. Sasha adjusts well (and surprisingly quickly, at least in terms of terrorizing the local rodent population with her sudden-found hunting skills) and is soon joined by several feline additions to the household. Damian discusses everything of interest to cat owners: introducing new cats to the home, dominance issues, litterboxes, cat food, venturing outdoors, meeting dogs, neighbors and strange cats, etc. A delightful, warm and interesting book on living with cats.

Rating: 4/5           192 pages, 1995

Nov 26, 2007

A Step From Heaven

by An Na

A Step From Heaven is a quiet, elegant little book that tells the story of an immigrant family who moves from Korea to California. Narrated by the daughter Young Ju, it depicts the everyday struggles of adjusting to a new culture in a strange land. Everything is difficult: job searches, learning English, attending school, living as tenants; all these things slowly wear the family down. Disempowered by his inability to navigate through American culture, the father looses control as head of the family and slides into a pattern of drinking and abuse. Even as parents and siblings shift roles and come to live as strangers, Young Ju discovers the strength in herself to step forward and claim identity and hope in her new place.

Winner of the Printz Award in 2002 and the Asian Pacific American Award for Literature in 2004.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 160 pages, 2001

More opinions at:
The Zen Leaf
Hooser's Blook

Nov 25, 2007

All Things Bright and Beautiful

by James Herriot

James Herriot is one of my favorite authors. He is a practicing veterinarian who works in Yorkshire on farmers' livestock as well as household pets. Not only is he a kind and understanding vet, he's also a great writer. His picturesque accounts of the Dales community is full of humor and wit, his portraits of the people and animals bring them vividly to life. He gives just enough information about vetting to satisfy the reader's curiosity about the trade, but doesn't bog down the story with dry or unnecessary details.

All of Herriot's books are based on his life experiences as a vet. The first four titles are taken from a hymn. In this, the second volume, Herriot is newly married to his wife Helen, and they are living upstairs from the veterinary surgery where he works with his boss, Sigfried Farnon and Sigfried's roguish younger brother, Tristam-- a vet student himself. Each chapter of the book is a story that can stand alone. All Things Bright and Beautiful is a book I have read many times and enjoyed anew at each sitting. I'll probably read it a dozen more in the future. It's that delightful.

Rating: 5/5                 378 pages, 1973

Nov 23, 2007


by Kent Haruf

This is a quietly elegant portrait of a farming community in Holt, Colorado. It focuses on half a dozen characters: a high school history teacher whose depressed wife leaves him to raise two young boys alone, a shy teenage girl who becomes pregnant and decides to run away from home, and two crusty bachelor brothers who run a farm together. Another teacher in the same school becomes the catylist for all these characters' solitary lives to become intertwined and connected. Plainsong is full of guilt and pain, quiet passion and deeply felt compassion. It is a wonderful portrayal of how people's lives touch one another- for good more than ill.

Incidentally, I enjoyed this book better than The Tie That Binds.

Rating: 3/5                    310 pages, 1999

Nov 22, 2007

The Color of Water

A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother
by James McBride

This memoir tells the story of two members of a family: James McBride and his mother, Ruth. Ruth was the daughter of immigrant Orthodox Jews. She grew up in the South. Her own mother was crippled, and her father was an abusive merchant who mistreated his wife, his daughter and his Black clients. As soon as she was old enough, Ruth fled north, where she married a Black man, converted to Christianity, founded a Baptist church, and eventually raised twelve children. James was the youngest of these. He tells the story of growing up in a poor, bi-racial household alongside the story of his mother's life, which he had to wheedle out of her. As much as The Color of Water addresses issues of racism, identity and religion, it is more about family values. It is about how one rather eccentric woman lived the way she wanted to without regard to anyone's opinion, and instilled in her children strong moral codes and work ethic. They learned above all from their mother the value of education and how to make do for themselves- for they all graduated from college. However, other examples of Ruth's parenting skills leave something to be desired, as when she instructs one child "if somebody hits you, take your fist and crack 'em". Her children suffered constantly from huger and poverty, and she was extremely secretive about her own past and family, even when questioned about it by her children. A very unsettling book, by any accounts.

Rating: 3/5                 328 pages, 1996

Cat's Eye

by Margaret Atwood

I really wanted to like this book. It is about the subtle manner in which girls cut down each others' self esteem.... as far as I could tell. The main character ended up being an artist; the first part of the book is mostly flashbacks of her schoolgirl days, with interspersing chapters of her dealing with a retrospective show of her artwork in Toronto... I wanted to read more about her as an artist, but it just wasn't getting there quickly and my interest lagged. Maybe I'll try this one again later.

Abandoned              480 pages, 1989

Edit 12/12/08: I've read it now. Read what I thought here.

Nov 21, 2007

A Map of the World

by Jane Hamilton

This quietly haunting story is about a family, Alice and Howard, and their two daughters. They've recently moved to a small midwestern town to follow Howard's dream of being a dairy farmer. Unfortunately, Alice soon alienates the local people against her. Right as the story unfolds, her best friend and neighbors' daughter drowns in her backyard pond. Then she is accused of sexually abusing a child at the school where she works as a nurse. On the one hand dealing with profound guilt over a child's death, and on the other facing a courtroom full of people who think she's committed the most sordid act against another child, Alice struggles to hold onto her sanity and keep her family together while facing the ostracism of the entire town. A Map of the World can be depressing and heart-wrenching, or a startling clear look at how one small mistake can trigger other events and escalate into an unforseen catastrophe.

Rating: 3/5              390 pages, 1995

Nov 19, 2007

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures
by Anne Fadiman

Fadiman has written a fantastic book about the clash between two cultures met in the arena of medicine. In 1980 Lia Lee was born in the United States, daughter of a Hmong refugee family from the remote mountains of Indochina. At three months old, she developed symptoms of epilepsy. Her parents viewed this condition as indication that her soul had been stolen by a malevolent spirit. Her team of doctors at the Merced Community Medical Center prescribed medicine that could halt her seizures and enable her to grow up to live a relatively normal life. But her parents did not understand the doctors' diagnosis, disagreed with their treatment, routinely failed to administer her medications and preferred to treat her with traditional Hmong healing methods. Both the doctors and her parents cared deeply for Lia, but their complete failure to understand each other led to a disastrous series of events and tragedy.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is a skillful woven story built of Lia's complex medical case, her family's stubborn solidarity and an exploration into Hmong culture, history and folklore. The author has imbued it with patience and irony. It presents both sides of the story fairly, looking in equal depth at the doctors' concerns and the deep-rooted beliefs of the Hmong.

The final, precisely apt conclusion rings true:
"If you can't see that your own culture has its own set of interests, emotions, and biases, how can you expect to deal successfully with someone else's?" (p.261)

Rating: 4/5                341 pages, 1997

More opinions at:
Book Addiction
A Bookish Type

Nov 18, 2007

The Tie That Binds

by Kent Haruf

Holt, Colorado is the setting of The Tie That Binds, a dismal tale about a dysfunctional family of farmers. When the original homesteaders fail to make the farm thrive, their children inherit a bleak harsh life. The daughter Edith ends up taking on the brunt of responsibility, fulfilling her duty to her family, as unthankful as that was. In spite of the fact that I did not find the characters very likeable with their disagreeable dispositions and painful relationships, their faults make them very human and realistic. There was something admirable about their stoic nature in the face of challenges and bitter disappointments. I cannot imagine living such a grim, unrewarding life with an unforgiving family and came away from the book uncertain if I should condemn or could possible condole Edith's final actions that sealed the tragedy of this story.

It also made me think twice about my fantasies that rural life is mostly peaceful and rewarding. Haruf's portrait of life on the high plains shows a bitter struggle to make ends meet against cold winters and a faltering economy. It takes a strong will and spirit to continue against the odds, as Edith's family does in this book.

Rating: 3/5                    246 pages, 1984

Nov 17, 2007

The Pilot's Wife

by Anita Shreve

I have come to realize, after reading a dozen or so popular books gleaned from booklists, that there are two types of writers I enjoy. The first are those who use words in a lucid, picturesque, poetic or simply beautiful manner. Language, the turn of a sentence and precise meaning of words are a work of art. These books are delicious to me. The second group are all about a fantastic story. They are master storytellers, manipulating emotions and plot twists in unexpected and startling ways. I don't savor these books, I gobble them. Even if I'm not really enjoying the writing, I often feel compelled to finish because I just have to read the rest of the story! The best is when an author does both, then it's amazing.

Of the "storyteller" group, Jodi Picoult, Kent Haruf and Anita Shreve are some of the authors that come to mind. I have read a few books by each of them recently, and they were pretty good stories, but after several titles I had my fill.

The Pilot's Wife falls into this category. A woman dreads and finally meets the moment when her pilot husband goes down with his plane. As she deals with the aftermath of emotional turmoil caused by his death, the media and industry raise questions about her husband's activities. She uncovers an unwelcome truth: her husband was leading a double life. Determination leads her to uncover his secrets, despite the peace of mind it will cost her...

Rating 3/5                293 pages, 1998

Nov 16, 2007

Reading Lolita in Tehran

A Memoir in Books
by Azar Nafisi

Reading Lolita in Tehran is about a group of women in Iran who studied and discussed forbidden books with a university teacher in her home. It doesn't really read like a memoir, and was not what I expected. I was picturing an intimate story about the women's lives and interactions with each other, facilitated by their book group. What I got was a bunch of essays on Vladimir Nabokov, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James and Jane Austen, with asides to Saul Bellow, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Gustave Flaubert, the Bronte sisters and more; Iranian politics, religion and the oppression of women. Once I let go of my expectations, I did enjoy this book. It gave me a clearer picture of the Iranian perspective and attitudes toward Western culture. I remember thinking to myself at times: well, no wonder they see us that way! (Though I am well aware not all Iranians share the opinons depicted in the book).

My main criticism is that it jumps around a lot, moving from one subject to the next without much warning and going suddenly from the present back to Nafisi's experiences at the beginning of the Revolution. This can get confusing and detract from the focus of the book. Also, it is a bit dry and can make you feel like you're back in school; especially if you are unfamiliar with the books discussed. Due to the many works mentioned in this book, I have added more than a dozen titles to my TBR list, of classic literature I felt guilty for not having read yet!

Rating: 4/5 ........ 356 pages, 2003

More opinions at:
Things Mean a Lot

Nov 15, 2007

Meme: Preservationist

Booking Through Thursday question from Conspiracy-Girl:
I’m curious how many of us write notes in our books. Are you a Footprint Leaver or a Preservationist?

I used to underline my favorite passages in books, and sometimes write notes in the margins. Not to mention putting my name in permanent marker across the top edges. Especially when I was in high school. I even used to underline in ink, so that flipping through the book I could quickly locate a quote I wanted. I don't do that anymore. I've even gone back and erased what I could of books I had underlined in pencil, and begun to replace ones I had underlined with ink. I re-read my books often and prefer to see them with new eyes each time, instead of having my attention drawn to words I appreciated ten years ago but don't see so much in now, when something else is speaking to me... Instead of marking up my books, I keep a notebook by the bed where I jot down ideas and notes, as part of the log of books I've read.

Nov 14, 2007

The Dogs of Bedlam Farm

An Adventure with Sixteen Sheep, Three Dogs, Two Donkeys and Me
by Jon Katz

Jon Katz moved with three border collies into an old farmhouse in upstate New York where he shared land with a bunch of sheep and a few donkeys (as you can see from the subtitle). A novice at livestock keeping, he plunged into the work with the help of his half-trained dogs and some friendly neighbors. Toiling through a bitter winter a bit unprepared, Katz came face to face with some of his limitations, to know himself and his dogs better than ever before.

Most of all, The Dogs of Bedlam Farm is about how dogs are what we make them. The trainer (or lack of training) does a lot to shape a dogs' behavior, demeanor and work habits. Katz realized that to have better dogs, he had to be a better person, because they were a reflection of himself. And so he begins a long struggle to do so, taking us along with him on the rough road to overhaul his spirit, with many mishaps, amusing adventures and new friends gathered along the way.

The personalities of the workaholic dogs, woolly sheep and two gentle donkeys shine though these pages full of reflections on life and descriptions of the land. This book was a joy to read, and inspirational as well.

Rating: 4/5               256 pages, 2004

Nov 13, 2007

Fast Sketching Techniques

by David Rankin

This has to be one of the best books on sketching that I have read yet. The author is an award-winning watercolor painter who graduated from Cleveland Institute of Art. He developed his sketching techniques while spending time in India, purposefully seeking better methods of productive drawing that would be useful for creating paintings back home. Besides many samples of drawings and exercises to do, the book covers topics such as the difference between drawing and sketching, how to draw faster, how to optimize use of photographs along with sketches, improving observation skills, making better compositions, maximizing productivity, how to capture a likeness of people or animals and much more! Fast Sketching Techniques is a great reference book for any artist who wants to improve their on-site drawing skills.

Rating: 4/5                144 pages, 2000

Nov 12, 2007

Last Child in the Woods

Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder
by Richard Louv

According to the author, in the past two generations, not only have areas available for children to play in nature decreased, but parents have been (intentionally or not) discouraging kids to play outdoors. Fears of injury, strangers, and all kinds of accidents that could result in lawsuits have resulted in laws, rules, and parental restrictions on kids' outdoor play. There is a serious lack of direct experience with local nature for them, unstructured play being replaced by organized sports, environmental learning being about places far away (like Africa) and attractions like video games and computers keeping them indoors. He argues that this lack of nature experience can have serious emotional and spiritual consequences. He presents studies that show how contact with nature can help children overcome depression, attention deficit disorder and obesity. Other studies show that hands-on nature education helps children develop skills in independence, critical thinking, problem solving and creativity. Finally, Louv presents a variety of ways parents, teachers and civic leaders can help children reconnect with local nature in a safe, creative and beneficial manner.

Based on research and countless interviews with children, parents and educators, Last Child in the Woods is a serious look at the current alienation many kids have from nature and the importance of "reconnecting" them. I did get a bit bogged down by all the statistics presented, but overall this is an excellent and thought-provoking book. Visit these this link for interviews with the author.

Rating: 4/5             310 pages, 2005

Nov 10, 2007


by Sarah Waters

In this winding tale of intrigue and fraud, Sarah Trinder is an orphan who grows up in a household of thieves in Victorian England. A suave con man convinces her to become involved in an elaborate scheme to obtain the inheritance of a gentlewoman named Maud. Sarah takes position as Maud's maid, with the intent of helping the con man seduce Maud so he can marry her, get her inheritance, and then put her away in an insane asylum. But then Sarah finds herself becoming physically attracted to Maud, and determines to help her instead of follow the original plan. Even her new scheme with Muad, however, doesn't go as expected... Fingersmith is well-written and compelling. However, I would prefer to do without the erotic love scenes. If it weren't for that, I would certainly read more by this author.

Rating: 3/5               511 pages, 511

More opinions at:
Things Mean A Lot
Jenny's Books

Nov 9, 2007

Cat Confidential

by Vicki Halls
I feel certain this is a good book, and I like reading about cat behavior, but it just isn't engaging me right now. There are others I am more eager to read, and flipping ahead after 40 pages nothing looked original or spectacular enough to keep me this time. I may open this book again somewhere down the road.

Abandoned              289 pages, 2005

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

by Joan Aiken

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is not about wolves, but the fear of them is certainly part of the story. Set in an alternate 18th-century England that is terrorized by wolves, this young adult adventure will appeal to anyone who (like me) loved books like A Little Princess or The Railway Children. In this story, a young girl and her visiting cousin are left to the evil devices of a jealous guardian who takes over when the parents are gone abroad. The guardian dismisses the servants, puts the girls to drudgery and eventually sends them to a boarding school where they are little more than slaves. They escape with the help of a goose-boy and plunge into danger, making their way back home through a wilderness stalked by hungry wolves and untrustworthy people... This book is the first in a series of eleven volumes written by a prolific author. In the Dell Yearling edition I found the pen-and-ink illustrations by Pat Mariott especially delightful.

Rating: 3/5                  181 pages, 1962

More opinions at:
Things Mean a Lot

Nov 8, 2007

Adventures with a Texas Naturalist

by Roy Bedichek

This is a wonderful book, but I think it has the wrong title. Which is a good thing, or I might not have picked it up to read! The first two chapters explore the impact that fences have had on the plant and animal life in Texas, according to their different types, and how the landscaping and management of strips of land buffering highways, railroad tracks and similar thoroughfares have preserved native plants in the state. Sound boring? Maybe when I write about it, but Bedichek's account is fascinating and informative. I never gave a thought to what a split rail fence does to impede wildlife traffic, especially in regards to plants! It really opened my eyes.

Then Adventures with a Texas Naturalist goes on to talk about birds. I was expecting after several treatises on birds for it to continue on to discuss reptiles and mammals, but although there are several observations on things like frogs and armadillos, most of it is just birds. That is why I am glad the title says "naturalist" and not the more appropriate "bird-watcher" because I never really found the subject of birds very interesting. Bedicheck's delving into all things avian is a wonderful read, however. He does a great job of describing bird behavior, migration, environmental issues and man's impact on bird life. Even more impressive are the rather obscure subjects like how we hear and identify birdsongs and how commonly accepted misnomers of birds reflect our misunderstanding of them. He also debunks many popular myths about birds.

Some of the information in this book is out of date, and some of Bedichek's predictions turned out to be incorrect, but it is both amusing and interesting to see a naturalist's outlook from the '30s. If you can get your hands on a copy of this little-known book, I think it's well worth the read.

Rating: 4/5                    368 pages, 1947

Nov 7, 2007

The New Work of Dogs

Tending to Life, Love and Family
by Jon Katz

Being heavily involved with dogs and dog owners, author Jon Katz realizes that many dogs today do not fulfill traditional roles of providing protection, livestock work, hunting, retrieving, etc. Instead, they fill in gaps in human relationships, providing a kind of emotional support and healing companionship. Through many interviews and visits with dog owners, trainers, veterinarians, dog behaviorists and rescuers, Katz analyzes the nature of this new relationship dogs have taken on with humans, scrutinizing the pros and cons, the benefits and repercussions it has on dogs. Exactly why have so many dogs come to be treated more like family members than pets? Why do we see in them so many human emotions? How have our species become so interdependent? Are dogs as a species taking advantage of our emotional need... like parasties? The New Work of Dogs presents a lot of interesting questions, speculations and some answers about how the role of dogs in our lives is gradually shifting and what it may mean for them.... and about us.

Rating: 3/5                   225 pages, 2003

Nov 6, 2007

Pastels Made Easy

by Anne Heywood

I was looking for inspiration to get back into my art and picked up this beautiful book at the local library. There is a lot of basic information on materials, how they work together and how to handle them, with exercises on different methods of creating texture and color blends with pastels. However, the author/artist never really takes us step by step through an entire painting. Although it is touted as an instruction book suitable for beginners, I felt it was really more a showcase of the artists' work, featuring over 200 images of her paintings. But that made it worth my time, since I enjoyed simply turning the pages and admiring the stunning artwork. I don't need lessons on how to hold a pastel stick, I needed to see some inspiring art and Pastels Made Easy did that for me.

Rating: 3/5                    144 pages, 2003

Nov 5, 2007

Blue Moose

by Daniel Manus Pinkwater

Okay, so I still read children's books now and then. They're fun. I found these on a booklist. Blue Moose is a silly story about a man who runs a restaurant in the middle of a forest in Canada. His business is failing until a big blue moose shows up who takes over the kitchen, introduces savoury new recipes, and learns to serve as a waiter. It's also got lots of odd and obscure facts about moose.

The Hoboken Chicken Emergency is just as silly: a kid Arthur goes to the store to get the family's thanksgiving dinner turkey and comes home with a 250 pound live chicken. He names her Henrietta and teaches her tricks. Then she escapes and runs wild in the neighborhood, causing lots of hilarious havoc. It's up to Arthur to figure out how to stop Henrietta the monster chicken! Both stories are short chapter books, suitable for young readers but well-written enough to appeal to adults who might like some amusement in wacky stories about animals.

Rating: 3/5                     47 pages, 1975

Nov 3, 2007

The Lost Painting

by Jonathan Harr

The Lost Painting is a detective/thriller which kept my interest all the way to the end because it's about art! It's about the search for a lost Caravaggio painting. While looking for information about which of two copies of Caravaggio's "St John the Baptist" is the original, an American art history student discovers clues to the location of "The Taking of Christ" which has been missing for centuries. With the help of an English gentleman who is a Caravaggio expert and art historian, she starts meticulously following an ancient paper trail in hopes of finding the painting, digging through dusty papers in archives and family vaults in Rome. Another main figure in the story is an Italian art restorer who works in a National Gallery in Dublin, Ireland. While cleaning a painting for a monastery, he realizes it may be an unknown Caravaggio original... This is a fascinating story about art history, restoration and the importance of proving authenticity. There is a wealth of information about Caravaggio's life and ins and outs of the art world, past and present. I only wish pictures of Caravaggio's paintings had been included in the book. That would have been nice.

Rating: 3/5                  288 pages, 2005

Nov 1, 2007

People of the Blue Water

A Record of Life Among the Walapai and Havasupai Indians
by Flora Gregg Iliff

In the 1900's Flora Gregg left her home in Oklahoma and traveled to nothern Arizona to teach natives of the Walapai and Havasupai tribes on an Indian reservation. Living in a canyon eight miles deep and difficult to access, the tribe was seldom approached by outsiders and little influenced by the modern world. Gregg gives descriptions of the tribal life and customs, skills used to survive the hostile natural environment of the canyon, and changes and conflict the Walapai people faced as they were confronted with modern culture when explorers, traders and missionaries penetrated their secret haven. Well-meaning persons sent by the US Government attempted to operate schools in the community and change some of their customs to "assimilate" them into modern society, isolated as they were. Not surprisingly, the Havasupai resisted these intrusions into their lifestyle.

Besides being a schoolteacher, Flora Gregg performed roles as a doctor and judge, and sent reports as a "superintendent" to the Government. A very straightforward book, People of the Blue Water is as much a diary of her years among the Havasupai people as it is a documentary account. It provides an excellent portrait of life among a little-known native tribe in an isolated environment, as well as an honest look at the struggles and influences of missionaries and Government workers among them at the turn of the century.

Rating: 4/5                271 pages, 1985

Little Women

by Lousia May Alcott

This is a heartwarming account (loosely based on the author's life) of four sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, growing up absent a father during the Civil War era with a strong-willed mother who teaches them to be moral and kind, independent thinkers and advocates for women's rights. Mostly it is a story of family life, squabbles between sisters, the growth of the girls' characters as they approach womanhood and marriage and Jo's aspirations to be a writer. The characterization is wonderful, the morality lessons are tastefully presented and the tragedy and triumphs of this family has touched many hearts and made this book a classic.

My only regret is that I wish I read Little Women first, instead of after viewing the 1994 film. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, but it strongly colored my reading of the book. For once I found it annoying instead of admirable that the script stuck close to the original text, because as I was reading I kept picturing the scenes from the film, instead of re-creating it in my mind. It rather spoiled the reading experience for me, which is why I had to give this book 3 stars. I think I'll wait ten years and read it again, maybe I'll have forgotten most of the film by that time.

Rating: 3/5                 464 pages, 1868

Read more reviews at:
Book Chronicle