A Book that is read in a day Rainbow in the Cloud: The Wisdom and Spirit of Maya Angelou, 2014

Rainbow in the cloud

The photo is a little uninspired but I have a picture of a rainbow in the clouds. What am I supposed to do? © Alyssa Yerga-Woolwine

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On first reading, it didn’t seem like a good idea, carving Angelou’s thoughts into meme-sized nuggets. Her claim to fame isn’t brevity. It’s long, ornate lyrical prose that reads like poetry and poetry that reads like complicated anthems. Not short or quippy.

Some of the quotes come across as generic New Age blathering like “all great artists draw from the same resources: the human heart” or painful platitudes like “Nothing will work unless you do.” Some quotes aren’t even hers at all. They are quotes she quoted in other books.

Whoever culled the excerpts didn’t seem to be concerned with context. One cringe-worthy passage, “The wise woman thinks twice and speaks once or, better yet, does not speak at all” sounds like sit-still-look-pretty advice. But it isn’t. It’s a lesson she learned in humility after mistakenly believing she was the most famous person in the room.

Most of her thoughts, even abbreviated, still hit hard. The inspirational “I believe that each of us comes from the Creator trailing wisps of glory” makes me feel like I was born to conquer the world. And “only poets care about what happened to the snows of yesteryear” reminds me to move on.

While the book offers some of Angelou’s wisdom, I don’t think it captures her spirit. It’s perfect for someone so familiar with Angelou’s writings that a few words are enough to spark remembrance.

These are the things that still linger in my mind:

Her signature syntax comes across, even in the one sentence quotes.

Much of her advice entails silence, stillness and breathing.

I love the pictures of young Maya Angelou dancing and writing. I’m so used to pictures of her in her later years, I forget there was a journey taken to achieve her wisdom.

She’s a lot funnier and bawdier than I remembered.

A Childhood Favorite The Phantom Tollbooth, Juster

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Disclaimer: I didn’t read this book as a child. I interpreted the “childhood favorite” prompt as a popular kids’ book, but after thinking about it, it probably meant a book I liked when I was younger.

PhantomTollbooth

So much clever wordplay and absurdity.

This road trip story hitches a ride with Milo, a young boy who enjoys nothing more than doing nothing. As required in all fantastical stories, a strange object- this time a mysterious tollbooth-opens the path to a new enchanted world that is both confounding and intriguing.

He acquires two traveling companions, Tock the Watchdog who has a clock for a body and the Humbug, a pessimistic bug with fluid loyalties. Together they take on the task of uniting two warring kingdoms, Dictionopolis ruled by King Azaz and Digitopolis, ruled by Azaz’s brother, the Mathemagician. The only way to stop the fighting is to bring back Azaz and the Mathemagician’s exiled sisters, Rhyme and Reason who reside in a castle in the air.

True to the fantasy genre, the story is peppered with bizarre characters like Faintly Macabre a Which (not to be confused with a Witch) whose past of abusing her choosing power has landed her in a dungeon. They meet up with Chroma and his orchestra who plays not music, but the beginning and end of the day as well as all the colors of in world. And they are guided by the floating Alec Bings, who comes from a group of beings that start at their full height and grow down, giving them an unchanging perspective of life.

My favorite, the Terrible Trivium, is equal parts hilarious and unsettling. A well-dressed gentleman with no face, Trivium seems to be the direct inspiration for Slenderman. With delighted detachment he assigns Sisyphean tasks that wastes the doer’s time. Milo, Tock and the Humbug find themselves moving grains of sands with tweezers, transporting water from one well to another via eyedropper and digging a hole through a cliff with a needle. If this story were updated to 2018, I imagine the tasks would be Candy Crush, arguing in comment sections and responding to every notification from a smartphone.

Many of the jokes are either puns or some sort of literal reading of common metaphorical phrases. Milo passes through the Doldrums, a place inhabited by the depressed and inactive Lethargarians on the way to a feast where everyone eats their own words.

But not all the wordplay is delightful. King Azaz’s cabinet consists of five members, who act as a living thesaurus, saying the same thing in five different ways. That got old, tiresome, annoying, irksome and boring really quick, fast, speedy, rapid and swift.

Other than that, I found this book to be entertaining. Great pacing, we never stay long in one place to get bored. I was excited to visit the next magical place and meet the crazy characters. I think fans of stories like Alice In Wonderland (Carroll) and Neverwhere (Gaiman) will enjoy it.

These are the things that still linger in my mind:

This is a difficult book to read aloud.

Kids today aren’t familiar with clichés like jumping to conclusions, mountains out of molehills or eating one’s words. I guess I don’t know when I became familiar with them either.

I’m glad I read this as an adult. I would not have liked this book when I was younger. I’m pretty sure I would have jumped out of the car in The Doldrums.

Short Story Challenge Indian Camp-Hemingway, 1924

IndianCamp

Spoiler Alerts

Ever show up ten minutes late and pretend you know what’s going on because you’re too embarrassed to ask? That’s how the beginning of Indian Camp feels.  Everyone knows who Nick, his dad and Uncle George are. Everyone understands their connection to the Indian Camp. Everyone but me.

Nick’s father, who I’m calling Dr. Adams, journeys to the Indian Camp to help a woman deliver a breech pregnancy. He takes Nick, excited to show him the miracle of life and birth. Nick’s uncle, George, also attends for unknown reasons. He isn’t a doctor. Curiously, he passes cigars out when they arrive. Now this may be payment for the Indians who rowed them over the lake. But, fathers passing out cigars to celebrate the birth of a baby is a tradition that also comes to mind.

So anyway… at the camp. The woman struggles and has been for a few days. And she is not struggling in silence much to the annoyance of those around her. The men of the camp wait down the road so they don’t have to hear her.  Her husband attempts to sleep in the bunk above her.  When Nick asks his father to give her something to stop the screaming, Dr. Adams lectures, “Her screams are not important. I don’t hear them because they are not important.” Okay, then.

After the anesthesia-free caesarean, Dr. Adams congratulates himself for completing it using a jackknife and tapered gut leaders. Because why would you bring painkillers and the proper instruments to a possible C-section?

Dr. Adams decides to check on the husband in the bunk above, possibly looking for gratitude, only to discover that the man has slit his throat sometime during the night. What should have been a lesson about life becomes a glaring example of mortality and opens the door to questions about death and suicide.

Like his other deceptively simple stories, Hemingway doesn’t walk the reader through its meaning. I imagine him tossing the finished manuscript at someone and grumbling “You figure it out.” However, I believe there is meaning in each of the few words chosen (there’s a chance this review is now longer than the story). I don’t believe he placed any images haphazardly and everything that happened in the story means something.  There is a reason Dr. Adams wasn’t prepared, there is a reason dogs came running out to meet them, there is a reason the woman bit George and not any of the other men, there is a reason the man slit his throat and not his wrists.  I just don’t know what they are.

These are the things that still linger in my mind after finishing the story:

I think it means something that the wife’s suffering begets life, while the husband’s suffering results in death.

I think it means something that the woman’s suffering is reluctantly acknowledged and the man’s suffering is ignored.

I think suicide was something Hemingway thought about a lot, and if more was known about it back then, perhaps things would have ended differently. Perhaps not, though.

It’s telling that the doctor is summoned to the Indian Camp specifically to deal with this and yet he comes completely unprepared.

New Year, New Blog

About two weeks after the start of 2018, I decided that my New Year’s Resolution would be to read more. And I tried.  I picked up books, read a few pages and lost interest.

Then I stumbled upon the 52 Book in 52 Weeks book challenge (link below).  It was created by Liz Mannegren at Mommy Mannegren. I appreciated the diversity built into the categories like a book that opposes your viewpoint as well as books by authors from other countries.

There are also fun categories like a book based solely on its cover or one with bad reviews. There are what I would call personal categories like a book with a main character that shares your name or one that was written the year you were born. And some wacky categories like a book with a green spine or a book with a six-word title. It’s already got me looking at books more closely, trying to figure out the category it could fit into.

I’m not reading them in any order, and with a few exceptions I’m not planning too far ahead. I want to leave some cushion for the books that have yet to be published.

The weekly reviews will be short and like the title says, focused on older books, some that have been out for decades. With the those, I’m not going to worry about spoiling the ending, but I will put warnings at the top of the review when I do.  Hope you enjoy.

2018 Reading Challenge + FREE PRINTABLE