Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Losing and Living (A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety by Donald Hall)

I read this final book of Donald Hall's close on the heels of his Essays After Eighty (You can find that review here.) However, I did not want to review two growing old books, one after the other, especially one with a title about losses. At the time that I read the book, I still had all of my aunts and uncles and both parents alive (and I'm not a child). I have seen that they have had to live through the losses of loved ones and the loss of health, but they have continued to live. This book is about living even as it is also about losing, and there is much to be learned from Hall's story. Not to mention, as I have come to realize, there is much to learn from Hall's writing. He remained a master writer to the very end (he died in June of this year), no wonder as he continued to revise to extraordinary lengths. In his first essay "You Are Old," he writes: "You are old when an essay of reminiscence takes eighty-four drafts." However, he is comparing that number to the numbers he mentioned when he was younger -- up to sixty! Clearly, he hones his craft more than the rest of us.

Because Hall writes from the vantage point of nearing ninety, "he feels free to reveal...several vivid examples of 'the worst thing I ever did' which is different from someone trying to keep an untarnished image of him or herself. However, be prepared for an entire essay (only two paragraphs, one half of a page) dedicated to the F- word. It is on page 181 of a 216 page book. Some will get the book for that essay alone and others will want to burn the book. I wouldn't go that far. I both bought the book and also dislike that particular essay. I don't want obscene words in my head that will come out at random sometime in the future if I fall into my father's stage of Alzheimer's or have a stroke and the only words I remember are obscene. It may sound funny on paper or in a movie, but in real life, it's not humorous at all.

Here are the great parts: amazing writing, writing of images that make this book (and his Essays After Eighty) required reading for some medical students. Hall captures so incredibly well what aging can look like that medical students are asked to read the book so that they will have some understanding of their older patients, some understanding of what the ailments of growing older feel like. His essay "Solitude Double Solitude" is nothing short of amazing (I'm running our of superlatives for Hall's writing) and his final sentence was gut-wrenching.

A surprising element of reading this book happened as Hall recounted his life with various poet-peers. These were poets who were famous in their day, and some I had never even heard of. Hall didn't expect to be remembered for too long either, and I think, perhaps, his prose will outlast his poetry! Nonetheless, I read these chapters at the same time that I was pondering legacy. Not many people will have their names remembered for years upon years, but each person matters. Each person brings something to the world of living, whether it be for ill or good.

Hall's final essay "Tree Day" is the perfect essay to end on, a perfect transition from one generation to the next. I do recommend the book. 

Monday, October 08, 2018

Raining (Rain of Gold by Victor Villaseñor)

This book was recommended to me by a family member, and she is right: the story is very good. I borrowed it from the library, and while I won't be buying it new, if I ever saw it on sale or at a used book shop, I would immediately buy it.

The story itself and the real people are fascinating. An added benefit was the amount of history (history in Mexico as well as prohibition history in the US) I learned. Most of the reviewers give this book a high rating. Of the two I saw who disliked the book, one person couldn't stand the mothers and thought they were evil. What?! The mothers are the life of the story not to mention the life of their families! Another reviewer mentioned the dialogue and writing style, specifically mentioning about "true love". 99.9 percent of us do not talk like characters in a television show. We're not witty or eloquent. The way the book is written made me believe the story as the non-fiction it is. This isn't to say that the dialogue is boring. While Villaseñor's family members sometimes repeat themselves, they have plenty of interesting, raucous, thought-provoking conversations.

The story also opens up the reader's eyes to what it can take to survive (and it isn't pretty). The reader also has to be willing to read dialogue that includes not only cuss words but also words of faith which these families have in plenty.

Most book discussion groups don't take on such large size books (562 pages), but lots of good topics of discussion in this book: what happens when a precious metal like gold is discovered, immigration (used to cost an adult Mexican 10 cents to get across the border and 5 cents for a child), how people treat each other, racial inequality, family dynamics, education. I enjoyed reading the author's notes at the end: which family members helped with the story, who remembered what differently.

Quotes that could also be used in a discussion group: "Blood is blood, but justice is justice. And Don Pio never let blood blind his eyes to justice" (127).
"Remember to respect a fallen star takes much more dignity than to admire the rising sun" (175).
"Oh, mi hijita, you woman of such little faith! God respects my honesty that I admit that I lie. He's a hundred thousand years tired of people preaching the truth in His home, but then lying to all the world once they get away from the shadow of His domain!" (377).

Since a number of my family members and friends are Hispanic (and I knew some of the areas mentioned in the book), I wondered if their extended family members knew or where a part of any of the families mentioned in this book. I can think of at least one family member who would be intrigued with reading this book.

💕💕💕 When I was in college the second time around, I took a foundational education course, and we did an activity where we all had color dots on our foreheads. We did not know which dot was on our own forehead but we could see everyone else's dot. We had instructions on how to treat classmates according to their dots. Ignore the blues. Be friends with the yellows. In an Exceptional Child class, we had to have some change which would make it more difficult for us to go out shopping and interact with people (broken leg, deafness, blindness). We all understand to some extent what it is like to be the not-popular student (unless you've always been the popular one). If we already have something genetic that hinders our interaction, we know how that feels, but many of the adults in my class did not. These are activities that can only be approached cautiously in a classroom; however, in a homeschooling community, we could even practice within limits what it would be like to be poor, even be a slave. Of course, it's not real, right? We know we will go back to being a free person, but anything that doesn't cause harm but will help open one's eyes to at least start understanding what it is like to be an outsider is a benefit to a child's empathy for others. Reading stories, traveling to other countries, helpful, as long as one does not take on an attitude of "I'm so important; I'm helping the downtrodden and unfortunate" as though others have less intelligence or knowledge or wisdom than we do. The families in this book, Rain of Gold, are smart, resourceful, wise, and hardworking. They just did not have money.

---Diving into the stream of social justice is a transformative practice. How to do it with humility takes thought and a tender heart. Still worth pursuing even if we're not at the point of humility yet. Being a genuine person to the people one meets as one shops at a store in a section of town where one does not normally shop might be a good start. I'm not to the point where I could go to the scariest parts of metropolitan cities, but any of the areas in my own county would be safe so I have no excuse. Also, if I was living back in my former home area, I would think going one section of town over from my own would be a good start. 

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Educating (Educated by Tara Westover)

Maybe this book is a 5 star book, maybe only 4.5, but I give it a fairly high rating. I did buy the book, mainly because the 40 copies in my local library system had 220 holds on it, and I did not want to wait that long to read it. A colleague said it was a "must" read.

Storytelling and writing style: Excellent.

Redemptive qualities or of value because I want to remember something or quote something or look something up, again and again: Perhaps not as much as other books I have bought, but I cried throughout the "Pygmalion" chapter. I'm in love with Professor Steinberg (and Dr. Kerry, too).

Book Discussion Group worthy: Yes, definitely. Topics -- This memoir has it all: Education, Religion, Politics, Family, Friendship, Image of Oneself

Reality: The readers who rate this book the lowest struggle with believing the things in this story could happen. They don't believe Tara could have gotten into the top colleges she did. Scores are everything. Someone quite close to me scored a near perfect score on the SAT and universities welcomed this person who, while not having a complete lack of education during homeschooling, still vastly educated (him or her) self. It is, as Tara writes, that the scholarships are there; however, a student does have to maintain that scholarship and that is the difficult part. But, it can be done. Also, Tara makes clear that she had to have help with math. The second situation readers find unbelievable is the injuries that happen where people are still alive even without the care of doctors. I like essential oils but, if most of the things that happened in this book, happened to me, I would be at the emergency room of a hospital in a flash. However, I have known people to survive horrendous accidents. I can think of three reasons for a person to believe Westover's memoir. First, if you have known anything familiar in the story (and I have). If it is the most bizarre thing you have ever read, then you will find it difficult to believe (much like Westover found it difficult to believe what she heard and saw presented at the college). Second, the boyfriend mentioned at the end of the book, wrote to validate Westover's story even though they were no longer together and he may question her decision to publish the story (that's what it sounded like to me although he also assuredly backed up her story). Third, Random House employed fact checkers to check out her story. Do I think her childhood self may have recalled her memories inaccurately? Yes, especially since she writes of that possibility and gives alternate takes on the story in footnotes. The different views of the story does not change the main characterizations and threads that run throughout the story. Whether Westover should have published the story, I'm with her on this one. Maybe the published story will protect the younger generations of this family.

Hopefully, the story won't make readers think that all home schoolers fail to educate their children because that is not the case. Nor is anyone who ever used essential oils a crazy person. If they never ever take their child to a doctor....that's a little much for me.

💕💕💕 Child rearing is challenging, but this book has enough "what not to do" actions to help any mom or dad avoid the worst of the pitfalls. Our family homeschooled for about ten years, so I would not list home schooling as a "what not to do." We made mistakes, but we did make sure our children had a top notch education. They did not have any academic issues transitioning into a traditional school setting. Other than, apparently, my daughter is never going to forgive me for not educating her on who Michael Jackson was before I sent her off to school. The tougher, more normal challenge, (even though in this book, it was totally abnormal), is how to help one's children have a good image of themselves. If I were to talk to my younger self, I would tell me to listen to older, wiser voices from different walks of life. Get a variety of opinions. Yes, even within the community of faith, find the different voices and check them out. Do the research.

---How I practice having a God loves me image: First, I started trusting that if God says God is Love, then God is Love. Then, I looked at what love is. I put those character traits together with God is Love. Finally, I practiced reminding myself that God says I am God's beloved child and God loves me with what love is. I remind myself of every good thing God has to say about what the Creator has created (you, me, others) and I practice walking in the knowledge that God is with me, in and through everything I go through, and God does it with kindness, gentleness, hope, goodness, charity, patience, self-control, and more.