Sunday, April 07, 2013

Idiot Girls, Medical Ethics, and Death the Narrator

Reading: I really don't mean to save these up for super-long posts, but apparently I am reading faster than I am blogging.  My second book report of 2013 includes a funny easy read, and 2 excellent book club selections.  My Newbery winners have taken a backseat recently as I frantically read to complete this month's book club book by the time we discuss it tonight. 

My sister has for years told me about Laurie Notaro and how much she enjoys her funny books.  I put The Idiot Girls' Action-Adventure Club on my list a while ago.  As often happens with my book list (as well as my to-do list, shopping list and other lists), things not on the list get completed because they push themselves to the top (from book club, from sitting on my shelf for too long, for needing to get returned to the person who loaned them before the person forgets she gave the book to me) and this one was not a priority.  As winter and gray skies dragged on through February, though, I needed a break from heavy and serious so I picked up Idiot Girls' at the library.  Completely enjoyable, laugh-out-loud reading that I didn't have to think a lot about.  I can see why Mellie loves these books.  Ms. Notaro is not afraid to tell you about her underwear and job failures or decisions that seemed like a good idea at the time.  No matter who you are, or how much of a Polly Prissypants you may be, you will recognize yourself or someone you know in at least one of these tales.  You, too, may be an Idiot Girl - too cool to be in the Smart group.

While on the cruise, I read State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.  This is one of my new favorite books and Ms. Patchett has now been placed firmly on my list of favorite authors.  Way back when I first started this blog (and was writing mainly for my mom), my book club read Bel Canto which I really liked.  You can read that somewhat cringe-inducing blog post here, if you must.  Then in 2011 I believe (not that long ago but apparently not last year when I kept track of every single book I read), my mom loaned me Run which was very different from Bel Canto but no less beautifully written or thought-provoking. 

State of Wonder is summarized on the Hennepin County library site as this: "A researcher at a pharmaceutical company, Marina Singh journeys into the heart of the Amazonian delta to check on a field team that has been silent for two years -- a dangerous assignment that forces Marina to confront the ghosts of her past."  In reality, this is a story of so much more.  Ann Patchett knows how to tell a story.  This one is part jungle-adventure, part medical-mystery (is that a genre?), with plenty of self-examination and interesting back-story of the main character.  And yet it is more than just a story.  Questions of medical ethics (How should new pharmaceuticals be tested and what do we do with the consequences of the tests? How far should we go to "assist" women with fertility challenges?  If we can develop medications which can eliminate deadly diseases in third world countries and impoverished areas, are we obligated to do so, even if there is no money to be made?) as well as questions about how much outsiders should intervene in the lives of "primitive" cultures in which they are living all demand to be asked, if not answered.  I loved The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver and some of the thoughts provoked by that novel came up in State of Wonder, too.  I missed the book club discussion of this book because I was in Miami getting ready to cruise to the Bahamas but heard that it was one of the best book club discussions ever.  And that is saying something for a book club that has been meeting since 1997.  If you have read this book, I would love to discuss it with you.

This morning I finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  It took quite a while to get it from the library and when I finally picked it up less than 2 weeks ago, the 550 pages seemed overwhelming.  Fortunately, it is a teen novel and a compelling read, so I was able to finish in time (it did mean abandoning some of my chores yesterday so I could get 70 pages read).  The narrator is Death himself and the action takes place in Nazi Germany during WWII.  Sounds kind of gloomy, doesn't it?  And yet it isn't all gloom and doom.  The story is of Liesl, a young girl who steals books (once at the graveyard where her brother is being buried, once from a Nazi book-burning, and then later from the mayor's house) and writes stories as she struggles to make sense of the world around her.  Stories sustain Liesl, her family, neighbors and the Jew hiding in her basement.  Scenes in which the city is bombed and in which Jews are marched through town on their way to Dachau were vividly told, bringing the historical setting to life, sometimes painfully.  The author has a beautiful, poetic writing style which evokes a wide range of emotions, and enforces one of the books messages - the power of words. 

Until we read again,
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