Monthly Archives: March 2015

One Day

One Day by David Nicholls (Vintage Books, 2009)

This novel comes packaged with two full pages of glowing reviews from professional reviewers, but I didn’t actually enjoy it that much. It’s the love story of a young British man and woman, and their adventures over the fifteen years after they meet at university. Each chapter takes place on the same date (July 15) of the year, but you don’t find out until the end why this date is chosen. The novel is probably most meaningful for British readers in their forties because they would be able to relate to the events and experiences the main characters go through on their way to finally being a couple.

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Filed under Fiction, United Kingdom

Rethinking the American Union

Rethinking the American Union for the Twenty-first Century edited by Donald Livingston (Pelican Publishing Company, 2012).

This collection of essays is all about what some might consider an unthinkable topic: the secession of states from the union as an option for the 21st century. The first few essays are written by conservative Southern lawyers and historians but there are also several contributions from progressive thinkers about secession movements in Vermont and California. There have actually been three national conventions on the topic of secession in the past ten years. Apparently (according to several of the authors) secession is one of the few ideas that brings people on opposite ends of the political spectrum together. A related idea discussed by several authors is that the United States is too large to be a democratically governed republic, and division into smaller entities is the only solution. Although their writing was repetitive and filled with unexplained legalese, I learned a lot from the right-wing writers about the history of the Constitution and how the South viewed the Civil War. I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about President Lincoln, let alone the Supreme Court, but these author were not afraid to do so. I still don’t understand why he didn’t just let the Southern states go, but Lincoln was the President who made us “one nation indivisible’ and not just a union of sovereign states. We’ve been brought up to think this is a good thing, but the essay writers in this collection make a pretty convincing case that we’d be better off seceding.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Social Science

Us

Us by David Nicholls (HarperCollins, 2014)

Based on the book jacket describing a failing marriage, I was worried that this novel was going to be too emotional and melodramatic for my taste. But the male protagonist had a self-deprecating sense of humor that kept the drama at a respectable distance. The basic plot involves a couple taking a month-long tour of Europe with their son the summer before he starts college. The structure of the novel, at least for the first half, consists of alternating chapters describing how the couple met, married, and raised the son, and their present day adventures in various cities in Europe. The wife and son are both artists, but the husband is a biochemist. The differences in personality between husband and wife and between husband and son are the cause of most of their problems. Yet, it all works out all right in the end.

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Filed under Fiction, United Kingdom

Let Me Be Frank With You

Let Me Be Frank With You by Richard Ford (HarperCollins, 2014)

Hot off the New Books shelf by the author of the 2012 bestseller Canada, this is a novel about a newly retired man living in New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy. As you might guess, the main character’s name is Frank. In this book he is indeed himself, whether anyone wants him to be or not. Mostly he is not so bad, though a bit burned out by the sorrows of life. In fact he has a surprising amount of optimism. Nothing really happens in this book except everyday life and Frank’s keen observations of it. It is almost more a painting than a story.

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Take the cannoli

Take the Cannoli by Sarah Vowell (Simon & Schuster, 2000)

Continuing with my plan to read all of Sarah Vowell’s works, this week I read one of her earliest books, Take the Cannoli. It is actually my favorite of the four I’ve read so far. Like The Partly Cloudy Patriot, it is a collection of essays about random topics which the book jacket calls Americana. This one is less about politics, and more about growing up in America. Vowell writes about a few things that are familiar to me (marching band, gospel music, college, cannoli) and many that are not (Chelsea House, Frank Sinatra’s career, The Godfather, gunsmithing). She has a very distinct writing voice, very casual and funny yet full of hearbreaking insights.

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Unfamiliar fishes

A few weeks ago when it was too snowy to go to the library, I re-read my paperback copy of The Wordy Shipmates (Riverhead Books, 2008). This entertaining history of the Puritans by Sarah Vowell of NPR’s This American Life is definitely worth a read if you like history. It occurred to me that perhaps Sarah Vowell had written other books. As it turns out, she has. So I got a couple of them out of the library, and review them below.

Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell (Riverhead Books, 2011)

This is Vowell’s latest book, a history of Hawaii and how it got to be a state. She is a devout Democrat and proud liberal (though from a conservative Montana family, oddly) so her take on this may be not the conventional one. But it was fascinating to learn about Hawaii from her perspective. Vowell visits every place she writes about, giving her historical narratives a personal feel. According to Vowell, Hawaii was conquered by the Americans in order to acquire a naval base at Pearl Harbor, with no regard for the rights of the native Hawaiians and their independent monarchy. The perceived needs of capitalists also figure largely in the story.

The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell (Simon & Schuster, 2002)

This is one of Vowell’s first books, a collection of essays about American politics. She writes about Theodore Roosevelt, Bill Clinton and George Bush, Thanksgiving, political campaigns, Canada, various previous jobs, growing up in Montana with her twin sister, and living in New York City as an adult. Vowell loves to travel to national parks and historic sites all over the country, even ones you’ve never heard of, to experience history first-hand. She is a great narrator with the informal voice of a close friend. I have never heard her on This American Life but she must be good.

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Filed under Nonfiction