Saturday, March 09, 2013

My First Book Report of 2013

Reading: Why, yes, I have been reading this year.  No, I have not told you about anything I have read yet.  Here is my first book report this year.

When someone asks me what my favorite book is, or what the best book that we have read in book club, I instantly answer, "Life of Pi, by Yann Martel".  I have done this ever since we read it 8 years ago, or whenever it was.  Funny thing, though.  I had not re-read this book, not even re-opened it, until this year.  I am not sure what took me so long.  I even started to wonder if it really was as great as I told myself and everyone else.  I started to feel guilty that I was recommending this book to dozens of people and maybe it was really crap.  So I re-read it and fell in love all over again.  There is so much in this book, and not just because it is rather thick.  There is an action-adventure/survival story.  There is a terrific wealth of discussion on animal nature and the best-written defense of zoos that I have ever heard.  There is a hearty embrace of religions of all types.  There is a likable hero, tragedy and loss, a realistically told struggle to survive, and a bit of a fable and fairy tale.  One friend to whom I had recommended the book sometime last fall was reading it recently and had only read about a quarter of it but already wanted to buy her own copy (she is borrowing the book from another friend of ours) so that she could highlight and underline.  As I discussed the book with her, I was tempted to go back and read it yet again.  She is seeing another whole layer to it that I did not - that all the author's observations on animal nature could be read as a commentary on human nature, a reminder that we, too, are animals, though we tend to put ourselves on a higher plain.  I may never be done reading this book.  And I recommend it to you as well. If you read it, or have already read it, I would love to discuss with you anytime.  I realize I have not given an actual plot summary.  This is from the back of the book: "Pi Patel, a God-loving boy and the son of a zookeeper, has a fervent love of stories and practices not only his native Hinduism, but also Christianity and Islam.  When Pi is sixteen, his family and their zoo animals emigrate from India to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship.  Alas, the ship sinks - and Pi finds himself in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and a 450-pound Bengal tiger.  Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi.  Can Pi and the tiger find their way to land?  Can Pi's fear, knowledge and cunning keep him alive until they do?"

February book club we discussed Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer.  You may have seen the movie.  I had not, so I read the book.  I am glad I did.  This was another journey and adventure story, non-fiction this time.  At the outbreak of World War II, the author (an Austrian) is in a British internment camp in India.  He escapes and the book details his trek across the Himalayas to Tibet, where he spends - you guessed it - seven years.  Obviously he survives the ordeal in the remote parts of the mountains (he wrote the book, right?), though he and his fellow escapee find danger, hunger and hindrances of all kinds around every corner.  They have no real map and are some of the first foreigners to the little secluded land of Tibet.  I enjoyed the journey, though found it a bit too detailed at times and was anxious for them to finally get to Tibet.  I loved learning about Tibet, the Dalai Lama (and trying to remember what I had learned about the Dalai Lama in college) as well as the people and traditions.  The book ended as the Chinese invaded, so I would like to continue learning more about what it has been like in Tibet since that time. 

The next 3 books I read went pretty quickly.  If you recall, one of my "predictions" for 2013 was that I would be reading some of the Newbery Medal winners.  I decided to start with 1971, the year I was born, and read the winners from within my lifetime. 
1971 - Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars - I read this in just over a day.  Simple story of Sarah, a 14-year-old girl (I think that is how old she was), with the usual complaints of a 14-year-old.  Then one day her mentally-challenged non-verbal younger brother, Charlie, (the book uses the term "mentally retarded" - it was the term we used then) is missing.  As Sarah searches for Charlie, joined by her sworn enemy Joe, she learns something about herself, her family and what is really important.  Apparently this book was also made into an ABC Afterschool Special called "Sarah's Summer of the Swans."  I don't remember watching this particular special, but there are others I recall well.  Also, I remember reading another book by this same author when I was in sixth grade.  It was called Pinballs or The Pinballs and was about a group of kids who all had special needs of some sort.  I don't remember much more about that book but found it interesting that when I saw the author's name, I thought, "Oh.  I think that is who wrote Pinballs."  And sixth grade was a long time ago...
1972 - Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O'Brien - this one took me a bit longer to read.  I wasn't sure I was going to like it, considering it was about a "widowed" mouse, her children and a group of very special rats.  I ended up loving it and by the end was cheering for the mice and rats, wishing for their survival.  And that is very weird for me.  If there are 2 things I cannot stand, it is rats and mice.  Give me snakes, bugs, spiders, lizards, or anything else (except bats which are really just flying mice), but keep mice and rats (and their cousins gerbils and hamsters) away from me.  I watch a certain scene from one of the Indiana Jones movies with my hands over my ears and my eyes closed tight until I am told by someone trustworthy that the scene is over.  Anyway, the book is about this mouse family and a group of super-intelligent rats who help her when her youngest son is ill and her home is in danger of being destroyed by a plow.  You will need to read the story to find out how the rats got so smart and why they help a lowly field mouse. 
1973 - Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George - I finished this one up right before leaving on vacation.  It is the story of a thirteen-year-old Eskimo girl in Alaska. She has run away from her husband in Barrow, Alaska (at the very tippy top of Alaska) and is heading for San Francisco where her penpal lives.  She has to use what she has learned about the "old ways" of her people and about the unforgiving landscape of the tundra in order to survive.  She is adopted by a pack of wolves, but autumn is coming so she must continue on.  Very interesting story for many reasons.  The conflicts of "wild" vs. "civilization", the old ways vs. the ways of the whites, and of nature vs. Man (or in this case, girl).  The natural history lessons of the dynamics of a wolf pack and of life on the tundra.  The social commentary about how the native peoples were "civilized" by sending them to school.  Another good book and excellent survival story.

Well, E just saw this post and commented "Holy words, Batman!" so I guess that is enough for this blog post.  Stay tuned for another book report and a recap of our cruise to the Bahamas.  Ahh.... sunshine!

Until we read again,
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