Saturday, August 20, 2016

The CZ Book Club: 2015 Part II

I have this thing where I can't get rid of a book without (re)reading it, and I'm downsizing my life, which mostly means going through the piles of books that are stacked all over my house.  Funny that just a few years ago, I was collecting any book I could get my hands on while I cherished the dream of one day having a fantastic library room with wooden shelves requiring sliding ladders for access to the top. Then I moved a few times.  And wouldn't you know, books weigh a LOT.  I am pretty sure the total number of book boxes I had to unpack was equal to the total number of boxes for everything else I own.  Not conducive to the minimalist goal of living out of a vehicle!!

Per my own standard, it's going to take a while to get through my piles so I can send them off to new homes.  But there's progress.

Wynne's War - by Aaron Gwyn

Quick Summary: An instinctive act during a firefight brings Russell to the attention of Captain Wynne, leader of a Green Beret unit preparing for a mysterious mission in the mountains of Afghanistan.  Russell's skill with horses are vital to their success, but his faith in the military and leadership and his own priorities and dreams is severely tested as he learns more about the enigmatic Captain and his team of loyal followers.

My Take: A comment on the back cover of this book drew a comparison to Cormac McCarthy, and I absolutely agree.  It's dark, disjointed, and confusing, which is completely appropriate with Afghanistan as the background.  It's a bizarre blend of reality and surreal dreamscapes.

"He realized that by now he'd prepared himself to die a number of times, but he hadn't - not in any way that mattered - prepared himself to live."

Little House on Rocky Ridge, Little Farm in the Ozarks, In the Land of the Big Red Apple, On the Other Side of the Hill
- all by Roger Lea MacBride

Quick Summary: A continuation of Laura Ingalls Wilder's life, captured in her autobiographical books known as The Little House on the Prairie series.  Her daughter, Rose Wilder, lived an equally fascinating life, and the childhood years of it were penned by her close friend and "heir" Roger Lea MacBride.  We learned about the challenges of pioneer life in the Dakotas from Laura; Rose's experiences introduce us to life in the Ozarks of Missouri.

My Take: Laura Ingalls Wilder is an original, but these are informative about farm and small town life in the Ozarks in the very late 1800s.  If you're a fan of the Little House on the Prairie, it's fun to see your favorite "characters" in as adults.

Buffalo Girls - by Larry McMurtry

Quick Summary: The story of the Wild West, including such towering figures as Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickock, and Annie Oakley, told by none other than Calamity Jane.  It's not about buffalo stampedes, cowboys and Indians, and gunslingers though; it's about the slow fade of the truly wild West as the land becomes settled and those larger-than-life individuals struggle to adapt to a new way of life.

My Take: I enjoyed reading this book!  It provides a very different perspective on all these famous figures, and presents a realistic view of the Wild West counter to the romanticized norm.

Mattie - by Judy Alter

Quick Summary: Apparently I was on a pioneer kick for a while?  Mattie tells the story of a pioneer and physician carving a life for herself on the plains of Nebraska.

My Take: Mattie is a spitfire!  It's not common to find stories, fictional or not, about a solo woman in a time when women were expected to be wives, who becomes a doctor before women could do such things.  Healthy dose of independent inspiration here!

Natasha's Dance - by Orlando Figes

Quick Summary: A cultural history of Russia from the very beginning all the way through Soviet times.

My Take: This is not a history book, which is great, but the complete disregard for chronology can get a little confusing when you're trying to put the artist/author/dancer/musician being discussed into context.  Regardless, it touches on many different aspects of culture and cultural development, and is an excellent broad look at what makes Russia Russian!

Oblomov - by Ivan Goncharov

Quick Summary: A classic novel not as well known outside of Russia, it tells the story of a man who, despite his plans and dreams, cannot motivate himself or be externally provoked into action.  From his couch, he observes life passing through the world around him, but he is a bystander rather than a participant.  He nearly saves himself when he makes the acquaintance of an intriguing young woman, but ultimately his inertia triumphs.

My Take: I love the incredible psychological acumen of Russia authors.  You root so hard for Oblomov because he really is a sympathetic character even though he is literally a waste of breath, but you kind of know how it's going to end up -- Oblomov doesn't even get off his couch once for the entire first part of the book!  Perhaps it was especially intriguing because I am the exact opposite type of person.

What is to be Done? - by Nikolai Chernyshevsky

Quick Summary: A love story, a political commentary, and a philosophical discussion on socialism.  Vera Pavlovna finds a way out of an arranged marriage and establishes what ultimately becomes essentially a women's commune housed inside a sewing shop.

My Take: Another point for feminism in an unexpected quarter, since the main character is a woman who undertakes to escape an arranged marriage and achieve financial independence.  And this was written in the mid-late 1800s ... in Russia.  I found this novel difficult to relate to, having grown up in a completely different style of society, but the challenge of making that connection and visualizing these characters and their lifestyle is worthwhile.

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