Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Review: Mud Season by Ellen Stimson

Mud Season: How One Woman's Dream of Moving to Vermont, Raising Children, Chickens and Sheep, and Running the Old Country Store Pretty Much Led to One Calamity After AnotherMud Season: How One Woman's Dream of Moving to Vermont, Raising Children, Chickens and Sheep, and Running the Old Country Store Pretty Much Led to One Calamity After Another by Ellen Stimson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I finally finished a book for book club! We decided to read this in April at the height of mud season in Vermont. Although this was a quick read, it was also a bit annoying in that the author seemed to have an attitude that she was better than the locals and didn't want to "assimilate" at all. The community rejected her because she didn't accept them and she didn't seem to understand, or even want to understand, why her ideas weren't being accepted. Stimson did fully admit that she was always jumping from one project to the next, and while I understand that it's difficult to manage a store, especially in a town you're unfamiliar with, I couldn't help but be annoyed that she was making decisions based on her misconceptions of the area. She thought she knew what was best and made assumptions, rather doing her research and taking the time to figure out what the locals wanted. As a flatlander myself who moved to southern Vermont and eventually to central Vermont, I learned very quickly within a few months that I needed to adjust to my new community instead of the other way around. She just didn't seem to get that, or if she did then it wasn't conveyed very well in the book.

It was a quick, easy read in part due to her obvious lack of book writing experience. It often sounded like journal entries and an inner monologue. Some people enjoy that style, but it really turned me off because it took away from the story at hand.

Also, at some point I'd like to try the recipes she calls Vermont recipes in the back of the book. I laughed out loud at that section.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Review: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and MeBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Hardcover, 152 pages
Published July 14th 2015 by Spiegel & Grau

There is A LOT to think about with this memoir by journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates. Between the World and Me is structured as a letter from Coates to his 15-year old son, and it is certainly worthy of all the attention and awards it has a received.

I picked this up from the library because my book club choose to read it for August. Unfortunately I wasn't able to make it to the discussion so this post is solely my review. I listened to the audio version and want to go back and read the book so I can make notes and cite specific passages that made me react out loud. There were a few places where I thought it was total crap before realizing my ignorance. He was talking about his own experiences growing up as a black male and I had to remind myself that many black people could relate to him and I wondered if there were others who couldn't because they had a different experience.

As a white woman, I felt I couldn't relate to most of the experiences in terms of gun violence and the likelihood of not having a father around. I could relate to the need to act or speak a certain way around others, especially men, in order to protect my body. And I was realizing that I have been conditioned to be afraid of or to fear the black man through their portrayal in the media and pop culture. That said, I am appreciative of a perspective completely different than my own.

I often prefer when an author is the one who records their book, but one critique I have of this one is that Coates kept saying "ax" for "ask" and "birfday" for "birthday." Those different pronunciations of a different dialect are almost exclusively black to me, which isn't meant to be racist. It's one of my biggest pet peeves because it sounds like an uneducated mispronunciation, and a great example of the different cultural nuances that exist in our society. A friend pointed out to me when reading a shorter version of this review on Goodreads, "while AAVE (African American Vernacular English) is often understood in popular discourse as representative of ignorance or a lack of education or a lack of intelligence, these associations are actually spurious, as I think is demonstrated very aptly by the author here. It is looked down on because it is a dialect of an underclass in a particular society, in the same way that there are deep class associations with different varieties of British English (e.g. Received Pronunciation versus Cockney English). But these associations say more about the relative social power of the groups that speak these different forms of English in a particular society than they do about the correctness of any particular kind of English."

All that said, I think that Coates is a great writer and I enjoyed the format and the perspective of him writing a letter/essay to his son. This is worth a second or even third read for me to hopefully better understand his perspective, and to be able to cite specific passages where I reacted strongly. I will also seek out his other writing.

My rating: 4 out of 5

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Create Your Own Happiness

I spent today at a free-form writer's retreat in Grand Isle, VT, sponsored by the Burlington Writer's Workshop. My plan was to work on a personal essay, which I did, and then I got distracted by one of my favorite quotes. I'm not quite sure who wrote it, but it's definitely awe inspiring!

It reminds me a lot of another quote I love, "Life is too short to wake up with regrets. So love the people who treat you right. Love the ones who don’t just because you can. Believe everything happens for a reason. If you get a second chance, grab it with both hands. If it changes your life, let it. Kiss slowly. Forgive quickly. God never said life would be easy. He just promised it would be worth it."

Both of these inspired me to write this poem:

Create Your Own Happiness
Embrace the people who support you
and cheer you through the bad times.
They're the ones who will celebrate your successes.

You will need to actively and consciously remove yourself from the drama
and the people who create it because it's not just a one time thing.

Be the change you wish to see in your own life
and you'll be able to naturally apply that to the rest of your life
and to be the change your meant to have in the world.

Realize that you are a work in progress.
You are constantly evolving.
Every aspect of your life will change, sometimes slowly
and sometimes suddenly and unexpectedly.
Sometimes the change is a planned choice
and sometimes it's an unintentional external force.
How you choose to manage that change will determine your success.

Confront your demons head on.
Grab them by the horns and bring them down.
They will battle you day in and day out.
Some days they will win, leaving you feeling defeated.
The important piece to remember is to not let that defeat consume you.
Choose happiness.
Choose to get back up after falling
and get back to living.
Create your own happiness.
Be who you want to be.

Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The NightingaleThe Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Audiobook produced in 2015 by St. Martin's Press

This has to be one of my favorite books. I just couldn't stop listening to it and I've recommended that we read it for my book club, Vermont Books n Brews, for our January 2017 discussion because I'm so in need of discussing this story with other book lovers. I'm sitting in my car right now with tears streaming down my face because it was that emotional. I just had to finish listening to the last 10 minutes of the story to get closure. And closure I got. The ending wasn't what I was expecting or hoping for, but I'm so glad there was some sort of closure. The closure I was hoping for wasn't the realistic, natural way of things in life, and Kristin Hannah has an innate ability of making a fiction story so realistic feeling and relatable.

I enjoyed the fact that the majority of the story was like a flashback but it wasn't necessarily written that way. It was a 3rd person story that switched back and forth between Viann and her sister, Isabelle, about the girls lives during the war. Viann's present day life at the beginning of the book left me wanting more details of the rest of the family.

This is such a heartbreaking story, yet a true testament to the strength of the human spirit.