Saturday, May 18, 2019

We Are All Shipwrecks

We Are All Shipwrecks by Kelly Grey Carlisle (2017)

When Kelly was three weeks old, her mother was murdered. She grew up with her grandfather and his much younger wife, sometimes staying with her grandmother and her friend Dee. Her grandfather owned a porn shop and as he got older and less able to work, his wife Marilyn assumed most of the responsibilities of running the business. At one point he bought a boat and because of the costs of fixing it up, they ended up giving up their house and living on the boat full-time. In her memoir, Kelly Grey Carlisle documents her unusual childhood and adolescence, while trying to unravel the mystery of her mother's life and death.

Her grandfather, Richard Grey, was British and insisted he was titled, calling himself Sir Richard Grey. He claimed a lot of things about his life, some of which were true. Although he took good care of Kelly, he was an angry man, what some called verbally abusive. The little he told Kelly about her mother was not necessarily true. She had mixed feelings about her grandfather and so did I by the time I finished reading.

Marilyn put up with a lot, and I was struck by her devotion to taking care of Kelly. She married Kelly's grandfather because he was stable and she very much wanted a baby. Since she didn't have children of her own, when Kelly's mother was killed, Marilyn was the person who most wanted to take care of her. She wasn't happy with some aspects of her life and I really think she would have left had it not been for Kelly.

The idea of living on a boat in the marine seems very foreign to me, but apparently it's not that unusual. For one thing, they had lots of neighbors who also lived on their boats and they made up a pretty tight-knit community. While reading this book I happened across a new book called The Tiny Mess, which documents people who cook in tiny kitchens. Their living quarters vary from tiny houses to vans to converted water towers, but I was struck by how many people live (and cook!) on boats. They're primarily in Southern California, which is also where Kelly grew up. It's a whole world that I didn't know existed.

Mostly this book was slice-of-life in that there weren't major events or catastrophes she was documenting, but just what it was like to grow up the way she did. Always in the background though were the questions about her mother and the years leading up to her murder. Kelly got conflicting stories from family about why her mother was living on her own so young, and what her relationship with her family was like. As an adult Kelly got in touch with the investigators assigned to the case and finally learned some answers to her questions. Ultimately it was a satisfying story that explores themes about family, both blood-related and not.

We Are All Shipwrecks first caught my eye because of the title - I do love a good title - but it has languished on my To Read list for quite a while. It was the 2019 TBR Pile Challenge that finally got me to pick it up. If you're interested in delving into a quirky life filled with complex people and relationships, you may also enjoy this story.

Pride

Pride by Ibi Zoboi (2018), narrated by Elizabeth Acevedo

Just after finishing American Street, I downloaded Ibi Zoboi's newer book, Pride. Given how much I liked the first one, I suspected I might also like her Pride and Prejudice retelling.

Lizzy Bennet is now Zuri Benitez, who lives in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn with her older sister Janae, and younger sisters Marisol, Layla, and Kayla. It's very easy to see who's who. Their names are similar to those in the original, as are their personalities, but in an updated way. Marisol is the serious one, but her specialty is finance. Layla and Kayla are just ridiculous, boy-crazy younger sisters, much like Lydia and Kitty. Their mother is very interested in the Darcy family who just moved in across the street and encourages her daughters to pursue the brothers, Darius and Ainsley.

Although the characters are plot are similar to the classic we all know and love, Pride is very much its own story. The Benitez family has Haitian and Dominican roots, and her culture is very important to Zuri. So is her neighborhood. When the Darcys move in, she can tell right away that they don't belong. They are rich and dress like dorks and talk like white people. She's very protective of her neighborhood and way of life; in fact, she has a pretty limited worldview and isn't even interested in experiencing life outside of Bushwick. She doesn't like Darius, but keeps running into him, especially since her sister Janae is so smitten with his brother Ainsley. Of course it's inevitable that Zuri and Darius will get together eventually, but without ruining anything I'll say that the ending wasn't what I expected. Much like the classic upon which it is based, Pride is about growing up and how your family changes, and there's are some pretty big changes for her family.

The audio narrator was great! In fact, Elizabeth Acevedo is the author of The Poet X. I suspect she was chosen for this book because there's poetry in it. Zuri is a poet and even ends up reading a poem in public while visiting the campus of Howard University. I was very glad I chose to experience the audio version.

I probably got a little too distracted comparing Pride to Pride and Prejudice, but it's pretty hard to avoid if you're familiar with the Jane Austen story. Just know that even if you're not, you're still in for a good story that stands on its own.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Dolefully, a Rampart Stands

Dolefully, a Rampart Stands by Paige Ackerson-Kiely (2019)

I was drawn to this book of poetry when I read that it was set in the rural Northeast. According to the description the poems are about "isolation, captivity, and vanishing." I can't ever get past the words of poetry to find the themes so I can't really talk about what I'm supposed to get out of this collection, I can only talk about my own response.

I was struck by the language of these poems, and by the unusual form of some of them. One of the earliest poems in the book, "The Lesson," is written like a prose paragraph. I didn't expect this, nor did I expect later another poem written in the same style that extended for 20 pages, one solid paragraph on each page. It's described in reviews as having a noir style which isn't how I would have thought to describe it, but I suppose it's apt. It's called "Book About a Candle Burning In a Shed" and it's about the investigation of the murder of a young woman. The narrator maybe be a police officer, and I alternately thought he was and was not the murdered woman's ex-boyfriend. I kept getting confused on that point. Although this poem went on a bit long for me and I couldn't quite make sense of it, I really liked the narrative voice.

Other poems written in a more traditional style stood out to me because of their vivid and unexpected imagery. Here's a bit I like from "Shine":

The stars do not eat my breakfast.
A man eats my breakfast. Like the stars
he cannot take care of me very well.
But oh does he burn.

I don't know why I like that so much, but I do.

"The Rose Bush" might be my favorite. I want to quote it in full, but will just share this part:

Dieback all the way back
before you were born ugly 
in the cradle, pretty at the table.

Something about that sounds like a song, the whole poem does, and I want to keep reading it over and over. It appears fairly early in the collection and I think it was here that it all began to feel somehow familiar. When I was in high school I wrote poetry - not terrible poetry either, poetry filled with sharp images and words that just sounded satisfying when you put them together. Had I continued to write poetry, I'm convinced it would have been a lot like some of the poetry in this book. What a strange response to reading someone else's book, but there it is.

I want to just continue through the collection, quoting all my favorite passages here, but I'd be here all night re-reading the entire thing. Suffice it to say that I'm very glad I picked up this book. For a while there I was trying out various recently-published books of poetry and not really finding anything I loved so I almost cancelled my library request for this one, only changing my mind at the last minute.

I may come back to it again sometime, and I may seek out another of her books. One of them is titled My Love Is a Dead Arctic Explorer and I can't imagine anything with that title wouldn't be good.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Five Days at Memorial

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink (2013)

When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Memorial Medical Center was flooded and lost power. Backup generators were of limited help. Temperatures rose. The occasional rescue vehicle came and could only take a few people at a time, and staff had to make decisions about which patients should leave. As the situation became more desperate, the hospital was in survival mode. Treatments and routines halted as the focus was just on keeping people alive and hopefully getting evacuated. But poor communication and lack of disaster protocols both inside the hospital and out meant there was no clear directive and staff didn't necessarily know what was going on. It seemed as though some of the sickest patients were doomed to prolonged suffering and, ultimately, a certain death. Somewhere a decision was made to inject them with drugs that not only eased their suffering but hastened death.

It seemed like an impossible situation, one without clear leadership or a coherent plan. The hospital's parent company told staff to wait for the National Guard. But the government was also responsible for trying to rescue everyone else in New Orleans too, and didn't have the resources needed. Poor organization surrounding the rescues: helicopters, to save time and fuel, transported evacuees to just beyond the flood zone where, it was hoped, ambulances would meet them to take patients to hospitals. But those ambulances didn't materialize. Some helicopters were being turned away when they approached the hospitals helipad, but by whom? And why? There were still patients inside in poor shape who needed to leave.

All this was described in the first part of the book; the second part was devoted to the investigation and legal fallout that came later. One doctor in particular, Dr. Anna Pou, was implicated in possibly euthanizing patients and she became the focus of the investigation. She was a well-respected head and neck surgeon who was known to care deeply for her patients. Could she have possibly taken lives? Was the situation that desperate?

Fink provided a lot of context for the story and the issues. She began with a brief history of Memorial Hospital, described how some of the patients were actually patients of LifeCare, another hospital that had space in the Memorial building, a setup that didn't help communication when crisis came. She also described the medical community's code of ethics as it pertained to euthanasia, and the history of why it's not a popular idea in the professional medical world. The investigation into the events at Memorial during Katrina was also meticulously described. I didn't actually find the second part of the book quite as page-turning, but I can't deny it was all helpful relevant information that was necessary to tell this story.

It's no wonder this book won a Pulitzer. The myriad issues make it so complicated, and Fink did an excellent job of bringing in different perspectives. The result is not an argument for whether or not Dr. Pou should have been sent to prison, but a nuanced examination of the situation and surrounding issues without any clear answers. As I read, I found myself agreeing with conflicting perspectives. When doctors talked about the importance of never doing harm and how clear that directive is under all circumstances, I agreed that wrongdoing occurred. But when one of the evacuated doctors is taken to an airport and realizes that's where patients would have ended up - not at another hospital - and they would have died from lack of care, I agreed that the situation was extraordinary and the regularly rules did not apply. When family members had been forced to leave the hospital bedside of their loved ones to evacuate, only to find out later their loved ones had been injected with morphine and died, I felt the injustice along with them. And so on. When all was said and done, I think I came away feeling like people made mistakes, but they weren't heartless killers. They were doing the best they could under the circumstances and truly didn't want their patients to experience prolonged suffering only to die anyway.

There is so much to unpack and discuss in this book. I'll be thinking about it for a very long time.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Before She Knew Him

Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson (2019)

Hen and Lloyd have just moved into their new house in the (fictional) town of West Dartford, Massachusetts. When they realize that their next-door neighbors are the only other couple around without kids, they decide to try and strike up a friendship. The neighbors, Matthew and Mira, invite them over for dinner. While touring the house, Hen spots a fencing trophy in Matthew's study and instantly recognizes it as having belonged to a guy who was murdered. Everyone notices her acting strange, but even though she tries to cover it up, Matthew knows she's onto him.

But Hen has her own history with the law, and one that doesn't make her any kind of a reliable witness. It doesn't help that the only reason she recognized the trophy as the one stolen from Dustin Miller is that during a manic episode (she has bipolar disorder) she had become obsessed with his case. So of course Matthew gets rid of the trophy and Hen can't convince anyone, including her husband Lloyd, that Matthew is a murderer.

We know by about page 12 that Matthew is a murderer, so this is no traditional crime novel. But Peter Swanson's never are. The real mystery is what Hen is going to do with the information she has, and what Matthew is going to do about the fact that she knows he's a murderer. This is all very psychological, which is exactly what I like in a crime novel.

Matthew is so interesting. His early life was completely screwed up and he is very influenced by his sadistic father. His father was horribly abusive to Matthew's mother, and the result is that Matthew only wants to kill men who harm women. It's hard to argue with that, I guess, but it's a pretty harsh sentence when the harm is defined as things like cheating on a girlfriend. Matthew's brother Richard was also influenced by their parents but in a different way. The less said about that the better.

Hen was the perfect person to have dirt on Matthew, as far as the plot goes. Because of her mental illness and how that manifested in paranoia previously, she cannot convince anyone that what she observes is true. She can see Matthew murder a person in front of her and there is still doubt about her as an eyewitness. Matthew is a beloved teacher; Hen is a mentally ill woman who suffers delusions. Who is going to be believed?

If I had to criticize anything at all about this book, it's just that I wanted more from Mira. We get her perspective at one point, a point at which she is becoming suspicious about her husband, but I would have loved more from her later. I just found the whole situation so fascinating and screwed up and there was more I wanted to know about. But if my worst criticism of a book is that I want more of it, that's the sign of a pretty good book.

If you like crime novels and haven't read Peter Swanson yet, get to it! I'm very much looking forward to seeing him in person at a conference I just signed up for. He'll be on a panel with a couple of other Massachusetts mystery/thriller authors and I can't wait hear what he has to say!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Paradox Bound

Paradox Bound by Peter Clines (2017)

In the town of Sanders, Maine an eight-year-old boy named Eli has an encounter with a mysterious woman wearing a tricorn hat and driving an old Ford Model A. He sees her again when he's 13. But when he next meets her as an adult, it's followed later by a visit from a faceless man. He asks Eli about the woman, forcing him to give answers about where she was headed, so Eli decides to head to Boston to warn her. He soon learns that the woman, Harry, is a searcher traveling throughout history looking for a literal incarnation of the American dream and that the dangerous faceless men are after her. Eli ends up hopping aboard the Model A with Harry and joining the dangerous search.

Honestly, it's so hard to describe this book because it sounds kind of ridiculous, but believe me when I say it's worth reading. I've been a fan of Peter Clines since I read 14 and he hasn't disappointed me yet. I don't actually want to go into too much detail because half the fun is figuring out what the hell it's all about as you go along. And I wasn't super clear on a lot of it, to be honest. I didn't understand what form the dream took - was it an actual object? And Harry was very particular in saying that she traveled through history, not through time, and correct Eli if he referenced time travel. I'm not sure of the difference. But none of this really matters, and it didn't make the story confusing for me.

Sanders was sort of a sleepy little town that hadn't completely caught up with the modern day, and Eli had lived there all his life so far. I think he was 29 when he leaves to travel with Harry. He always wanted to get out of his town but never quite got motivated. His childhood bully, Zeke, grew up to be a cop which can't have made things easier. He also had a relationship go South recently, so his life situation was pretty perfect for a grand adventure. As much as Eli was sort of obsessed with Harry, it wasn't a romantic thing, for which I am grateful. But they were a great duo as they traveled through history searching for the dream, encountering some famous actual people from history, and evading the creepy faceless men.

This is a page-turning adventure that moves quickly, but not so quickly that there's not good character development. It's very well thought out and well-crafted, which is exactly what I've come to expect from Peter Clines. The fact that a town in Maine features so prominently led me to look him up and discover that he is, in fact, originally from Maine. Turns out he has worked as a props master on Veronica Mars, which I am currently rewatching and somewhat obsessed with. Worlds collide.

Paradox Bound is on my 2019 TBR Pile Challenge, which I am almost ashamed to admit since he's an author I always read now so I don't know why it took me so long to get to this one. It was fun and entertaining and unexpected and strange. I've never read a story quite like it. I think I've said that about his other books too. As always, I'm very much looking forward to seeing what he writes next.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

April Wrap-Up and Plans for May


Reading and Listening


I finished 8 books this month, which is pretty typical. It was a good reading month! I read three very different nonfiction books that were all quite good: I Think You're Wrong (But I'm Listening), which is all about having productive political conversations with people who may have different perspectives; Mayflower, the history of the first Europeans who came to New England and their relationship with the native people; and An Everlasting Meal, which is about food and cooking.

Both audiobooks I listened to were great: The Upside of Unrequited and American Street. Really, everything I read and listened to this month was quite good!

I managed to get to one book from my TBR Pile Challenge at the very end of the month, Paradox Bound by Peter Clines, which I'll be posting about soon.

Watching

 

Ridiculous dog photo of the month
 I watched the first season of The Great British Baking Show without Mary Berry or Mel and Sue. In many ways it wasn't the same, but the bakers were great and the new people can't help that they aren't the old people. Plus, baking!

I'm also re-watching Veronica Mars in anticipation of the reboot that's coming in July. I've watched season 1 and am now on season 2. It's so funny to watch a show I've seen before that I remember bits and pieces of, but there were a lot of things I had totally forgotten. Such a great show!

Earlier this month I made a visit to an actual movie theater to see Jordan Peele's Us. I was afraid it would be super creepy and freak me out, but although it had some creepy moments I found it more thought-provoking than scary. It's the sort of movie that as soon as I finished it I immediately wanted to go back and watch it again knowing what I know now.

Cooking

 

Nice-looking loaf of bread. Tasty, too!
I think the only new things I tried were Chile and Bell Pepper Quesadillas from Moosewood Cooks at Home and Sloppy Joes from the Pioneer Woman both of which were pretty easy and tasty. I also finally tried a no-knead bread, or I guess it's technically Almost No-Knead Bread, as the recipe in Bread Illustrated is called, since there's like a minute of kneading. It came out quite well! Otherwise I cooked and baked things I've made before.

Work lunches are always a struggle and I've made grain bowls a couple of weeks recently. I used this recipe once, I think back in March, but then another week I decided to just make up my own since it's all components. I roasted some broccolini and carrots, cooked arborio rice and mixed it with pesto, added sauerkraut leftover from the previous bowls, and topped it all with chopped radishes and hard-boiled eggs. It was pretty good. I like the idea of just cooking components and throwing them all together. I look at a lot of grain bowl recipes but usually there are things I like and don't like about them, so I may start just mixing and matching components and sauces and whatnot. One thing that frustrates me about these recipes is that they often top them with avocado, even the ones suggested to take for lunches on the go. It's like they don't realize that avocados will brown. I love avocados and would love to have them in my lunch, but it's not realistic. Anyhow, we're also getting into main dish grain/pasta salad season so I look forward to finding some new options to eat outside in the park during my lunch while reading. I can't wait for those days!

I also got together with a friend to do some cooking and we made a stir-fry. I learned from this experience that the best way to stir-fry is to cook each ingredient separately and then combine them at the end. In the past, I've followed recipes that try to time it so that you put in the longest-cooking things first and then add the others gradually so that they'll all be done the right amount at the end, but it never quite works out. I think that's because you can't necessarily anticipate how long something will take and it's very easy to overcook ingredients. So now I may try stir-frying again because I really like eating stir-fries and now I feel like I have a handle on how to do a better job of it.

Doing

 

I did finish physical therapy, not because my shoulder is 100% healed but because I reached the point where my insurance cut me off. Yay, America. I'm glad it's over though. They were lovely at the physical therapy place, but it was hard. It was a lot of exercise, and also I had to use part of my lunch break twice a week, so I'm glad to have that off my schedule. I have some exercises to do at home, though I haven't been great about actually doing them.

First al fresco dining of the year, at Twyrl in Arlington
With physical therapy over, I've begin doing other exercise again. I've gone to Zumba a few times and I've been running once or twice a week, though it's been hard with all the rain we've been having. (I don't run in the rain. Or snow. Or ice.) But when I've run it's been for 2 miles or a little more, which is pleasantly surprising.

I also finally bit the bullet and ordered a new laptop, since mine has had multiple horizontal lines running across the screen for a couple of months now since I dropped it. I couldn't bear to pony up for another Macbook so I ordered a cheap laptop that was recommended in an article. Honestly I didn't do a ton of research because computers are boring, but I also didn't spend a ton so it doesn't feel very risky.

I've made pretty good progress on the sweater I began knitting. I actually screwed up near the very beginning and didn't realize it until a few inches later, but I ripped back and re-knit it correctly because I knew it would drive me nuts if I left it, even though it probably wouldn't be noticeable to most people.

Plans for May

 

Now that I'm out of the bleak winter I feel like I need to reassess and refocus on goals for this year. Right now I don't remember what any of those goals even were.

I'm attending the Massachusetts Library Association conference later this month, which I'm looking forward to. I also have a new person starting at work who I have to train and get up to speed, so I think it's going to be a busy month!

I booked a camping trip at the very end of the month that I'm excited about because we're actually getting a camp site that requires a half mile hike to get to, which means we won't have lots of people and dogs and radios on top of us. I'm just hoping the weather holds! It feels like we got a year's worth of rain in April so hopefully we'll have nice weather for May.

How was your April?