Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Secret Life of Bees

The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd, was a book I'd had on the bookshelf for about a year and a half. I'm not sure if I ever picked it up, started it, and put it down, but I am certainly happy that I picked it back up again.
This is the story of a 14 year old girl, Lilly, living in South Carolina in 1964. She comes from a broken home where her mother died tragically when Lilly was only 4 and her father is a troubled soul who takes his misery out on his daughter at every turn. The only friend Lilly seems to have is the housekeeper, Rosaleen, a black woman who has been with Lilly's family for years.
Through a variety of twists and turns, all woven within the race riots and civil rights unrest of that time, Lilly and Rosaleen find themselves miles away from home living with a colorful group of sisters who take them in and shine light on lives that, for both Lilly and Rosaleen, have been anything but sunny.
This book sucked me in almost from the beginning and spoke to all of the different forms in which love can come into our lives. I was left with a really complete feeling after finishing this book; the characters were so well written and Kidd really got the essence of family, the essence of love, and the true meaning of what forgiveness is. I liked that there wasn't a ribbon tied around the book at the end, everything wrapped up all nicely with a perfectly happy ending. If anything, I think Kidd leaves you with the feeling that life is anything but perfect, or always happy, but that's the journey. And sometimes the people we end up letting into our little weird worlds are the ones we never thought would fit there at first glance... and that's beautiful.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Tina Cassidy

Allison III
Originally uploaded by Sara Heinrichs (awfulsara).
"I had seen birth and death, But had thought they were different." T.S. Eliot

This was one of the most fascinating books I've read in a long time (Sagan's was also pretty rockin'!) Right off the bat, though: Becky, you probably can't stomach this one. And dad, you probably don't care much about the topic. So, mom...are we alone now? What a great book this was. You've been there, so I'm sure you can stomach the finer details.

Basically, Cassidy finds herself talking about the birth of her new daughter with the other women in her family and realizes how different birth was for different generations. This sends her on a quest to learn about birth in different times and different cultures. The sheer variety of medical procedures ("twilight sleep?"), expectations of the mother (SILENT labor?!), and cultural traditions (coils around the father's testicles which the birthing mother pulls on so he can feel some of her pain (-: !!) were so interesting and unexpected.

Of course, I also found myself crossing my legs as tight as possible during discussions of labor difficulties and the different implements "doctors" used to save laboring mothers. And sometimes doctors weren't allowed to save the mothers. During certain historical times, Catholics weren't allowed to sacrifice the baby's life for the mothers - the baby hadn't been baptized yet. So mom and baby usually died during difficult Catholic deliveries. Fun!

The history of birth experiences was fascinating. However, I felt there was a larger message to this book - life is precious. Reading about how many mothers have died trying to bring their children into the world broke my heart. Thinking of how many infants died before taking their first breath broke my heart. And with all of this heartbreak, I was reminded of how big love and sacrifice are...lessons I've learned only upon becoming a mother myself. Life is so precious and brief and that's so important to remember. I really thought this was a beautifully written, researched, and thought out book.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan

This was Dave's Christmas gift from Amanda and we both read it (thanks Amanda)so I'll be the first one to review it.

This book should serve as a clarion call to all the naysayers who refuse to recognize the urgency of global warming in our world today. The book recounts one of this nation's worst environmental disasters- the dust storms that devastated the High Plains during the 1920-30s. At it's peak, the Dust Bowl covered 100 million acres and the dust darkened skies as far away as Manhattan! The Plains were a barren landscape, covered by tall grass, where the Native Americans had hunted bison for centuries. Thanks to the Homestead Act (1850s?)the U.S. government moved the Indians off the land and encouraged settlers to move west, promising them free land for farming (160 acres). The railroads, politicians, banks and newspaper editors also played a role according to Mr.Egan. He writes, "The flattest, driest, most wind-raked, least arable part of the United States was transformed by government incentive, private showmanship, and human desire from the Great American Desert into Eden with a haircut."

This is truly an amazing tale, told through the voices of people who actually lived through the dust bowl days. It is a story of government incompetence (sound familiar?), greed, ignorance, and denial that things were really as bad as they seemed. I couldn't help but see parallels with what is happening today as we experience climate change and hear the dire warnings about what that portends for life on Earth.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who cares about protecting the environment. The summation on the back cover says it best: "In an era that promises ever-greater natural disasters, The Worst Hard Time is a powerful cautionary tale about the dangers of trifling with nature."

Hi - This is Dave adding to Jackie's post. I'm afraid my comments are pessimistic. Each reading of a new book on the subject of global land use seems to suggest a poor outcome. A suggested additional companion piece to "The Worst Hard Time" (WHT)is "COLLAPSE - How Societies Choose To Fail or Succeed" by Jared Diamond. The book is a little problematic in tying the whole story together, but the conclusions seem reasonably well supported.

WHT & Collapse seem to deal with an environmental issue more dire than global warming. WHT described an expanding population moving to marginal land and succeeding in good times and damaging the land to the point it could no longer be used (or it disappeared in the case of the Dust Bowl) in bad times.

Collapse saw peoples either move away or starve and disappear under similar circumstances across time in different areas around the world. Globally, we appear to be at the point where many lands can not sustain the existing population with easily predicted climatic variances like weather events and temperature & rain fluctuations. The case gets worse with an increase in population. In the U.S., we still have a lot of land that appears to be ripe for occupation, but is marginal. Think lowlands (New Orleans, coastal regions including NYC, river flood plains), arid lands (the central high plains, high lands above 3-4,000 feet, or lands serving a cleansing purpose like forests and wet lands. Resource practices (high consumption in U.S., Europe, Japan; lesser rates in rest of world) also have a large effect and the trend is bad. Developing countries aspire to the U.S. consumption model. Collapse estimates we can maybe double the world's population with all known resources and at current consumption rates. If the current global population consummed as the U.S. does, we wouldn't have enough resources to live at the current 6 billion person level. It suggests that the developed nations need to use far fewer resources than today because the rest of world will catch up to that rate in a short time. It also suggests the global population should stop growing. A global discussion on consumption and population appears to be the most pressing environmental issue (not global warming) but is unlikely to occur until the predictable conflicts over water, food and habitable land occur multiple times and the root causes become more apparent. Like I said, my conclusions (most of the preceding paragraph) are pessimistic but that should not take away from reading either WHT or Collapse. The better we understand the known situation, the greater chance we have of producing a better outcome.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

It's a Keeper!

Well, folks, this one is a keeper! I think the index is especially nice. Whoever worked on it must not only be handsome, but very smart...he obviously put a lot of time into it!

Ok, I confess. I haven't read the book, but I know Michael Thompson (he was one of Mark's professor's at William Paterson and was at our wedding) and I think he has a good writing style, from what I've read.

Woo hoo! New Conservatism! Rock on!