Tag Archives: reading

Oh, to be a river

Last weekend I went on a mini retreat with one of my oldest — and dearest — friends while Mr. B stayed home with the kids for an adventure only two toddlers can provide. Saturday morning my friend and I packed our computers, books, music and wine and spent a glorious 24 hours in the company of a river at a small cabin in the heart of The Mitten.

Chippewa River View

It was quiet and peaceful and everything my soul had been needing for some time. I have talked before about how bad I am at making time for myself, but I’m trying to do better. I recognized my need to get away and have a night to myself to focus on things I enjoy doing: reading, writing, thinking, dreaming and planning. And what better place for this annoyingly stereotypical Pisces to do that than by the water.

My goal for the retreat was to just focus on things I enjoy that fill my soul. I read two novels, wrote a blog post and spent a lot of time sketching out my dreams for my future — for my family’s future. And, I spent some time thinking about rivers, up to my ankles in the flowing water.

Feet in the river

There’s so much I love about rivers. The peace of the smooth, flowing water. The whispery sounds as wind slides through the trees on the shore and the water snakes past. The chirping birds and splashing fish. The waving grasses and plants on the banks. The coolness of the water on my unsteady feet as the sand and rocks massage my achy arches.

But there’s so much more to rivers than all their beauty and peace, though. And I wonder: is it possible to love and fear and envy rivers all at the same time?

Rivers — even more than bodies of water — scare me. I’m never so intrigued and nervous as I am in the spring when the rivers swell, flooding roads and homes as they wash away what remains of our cold, Michigan winters. And those who aren’t careful very easily could get swept along with the river. Rushing spring river waters carry with them danger for the people and property that get in their way.

But, oh the way they flow — not taking no for an answer, cutting new paths with a fierce stubbornness and conviction only a river can know. There’s a special kind of patience in a river, too, knowing their path won’t be cut immediately. If there’s something in their way, they push through it. It might take years, or decades, or eons, but the river holds firm in its goal. Some of the most beautiful landscapes in this world were cut by a river — earth never the same after a river’s run through it.

There are days I wish I could be more like a river — to have that peace and patience with a fierce streak of determination running through me. Perhaps that should be my goal — perhaps I should focus on finding peace with my path while knowing it’s within my power to cut a new one as I go. Because it is, after all, my path. It is my story.

A view of the river

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‘Something Borrowed’

On the recommendation of a few friends, I finally picked up Emily Giffin’s “Something Borrowed.” I was in the mood for something light that didn’t require too much thought. This book was that book. Typical of most “chick lit,” it had all the things most books in this genre include: girlfriends, boyfriends, adultery, alcohol, high-paying jobs, big-city thrills with some beach time thrown in for good measure.

something borrowedThe story is basically a tale of three relationships: Darcy & Rachel, Rachel & Dex, Dex & Darcy. Of course, there are the side characters who come in throughout the story to add various levels of distraction — for both the characters and the reader. Here’s the gist: Rachel and Darcy are lifelong best friends; Rachel meets Dex in college and introduces him to Darcy; Darcy and Dex start dating, eventually getting engaged; Rachel realized she loved Dex all along; Dex realized he loved Rachel all along; Dex and Rachel have an affair; Dex (eventually) calls off the wedding; Darcy announces her pregnancy with another man’s baby. Drama unfolds. Friendships fall apart. Up and down. Up and down.

The story was nothing groundbreaking. It was written in an easy-to-read and entertaining way. I breezed through it pretty quickly and enjoyed getting to know the characters. It kept my interest and fulfilled what I was looking for in a book: quick, easy-to-read and light. However, I am left feeling annoyed with the story, the author and all of the characters. I am also left not wanting to recommend this book.

It’s not because it was poorly written. It’s not because it was bad. It’s simply because the whole book is basically a long, drawn-out validation for being unfaithful. It’s disgusting. These people are all educated adults, but they think nothing of two people entering into a relationship that is built on cheating. And they all come up with excuse upon excuse for why Dex and Rachel’s relationship is OK. In fact, even more than OK — it’s destiny.

I firmly believe that people change, relationships change and, sometimes, happily-ever-after isn’t meant for two people as they once thought it was. But that is no reason for cheating. Adults have the responsibility to own up to their feelings and their actions and act like the grown-ups they are. Don’t take the easy way out — get out of one relationship before you start another one. “I loved him before she did” does not give Rachel the right to lie and cheat and destroy her friend. “Darcy’s is such a selfish witch” is not a reason for Dex to hop from her bed to Rachel’s. “She did it, too” does not make months of cheating acceptable.

I’m sorry, but I don’t buy it. I don’t accept it. I don’t want to read about it.

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‘The Marriage Bureau for Rich People’

After finishing the Josephine B. trilogy and “I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced,” I was needing something light, quick and easy. Well, you can see that it’s been a while since I’ve posted a book review. This book definitely relied on its eye-catching cover, intriguing title and romantic premise to draw people in. I’ll admit, I was suckered into actually buying it. I mean, it’s hot pink and orange, for crying out loud!

book cover

It was definitely light — but not quick and easy. I could not get into it, but I was determined not to quit it. It was written to attract as many readers as possible and was certainly written for a different type of reader than I am. I was unable to relate to any of the characters, and I found myself bored with the storyline. Interestingly, I had the most difficult time relating to any of the women in the book — even moreso than the men. For me, it’s usually the opposite.

The story takes the reader to India where Mr. Ali, a retired man, decides to open a marriage bureau, helping well-to-do Indian families of all castes and religions arrange marriages for their brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. The concept was interesting to me. As someone who holds an anthropology degree, I am fascinated by different cultures and their practices. That’s what I was hoping to get in this book. But I didn’t. This was not so much a cultural study through literature as it was a poor attempt to provide the reader with a super basic, and somewhat confusing, look at the caste system in India.

In addition to learning about Mr. Ali, the reader is introduced to his assistant, Aruna, and her family. The story follows her troubles as she struggles to find a proper match for her own marriage — while helping customers at the bureau. Due to circumstances out of her control, her family does not have enough money for a proper wedding, much less a proper dowry. So she remains unmarried. With no hope. Until that fateful day when a new client comes into the bureau with his family, seeking to find a suitable bride. Not an appropriate match for Aruna due to monetary and situational concerns, this client is put on “the list” for potential brides.

Long story short (don’t read further if you don’t want the story spoiled), Aruna and the client fall in love, overcome obstacles so they can get married and live happily ever after.

Quite cliché, quite predictable and, honestly, quite forced.

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‘The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B.’

Written in the form of journal entries, “The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B.” follows the life of Josephine Bonaparte (“Rose”) as she goes through the early years of her life, leading up to her marriage to Napoleon Bonaparte. From the first entry on the first page, I was pulled into Rose’s life and didn’t want to leave.

Me Reading a Book

Barely in the door from my race, I settle in with a cup of tea and Josephine B.

This book allowed me to get so caught up in the trials and tribulations of Rose’s life that it was easy to forget what was happening right outside my own door. Everything from the descriptions of the over-the-top wealth to the sorrowful prisons was spot-on. Sandra Gulland was able to capture the happiest moments and the most tearful with a reality that is hard to capture.

I’m not typically a historical fiction kind of gal. In fact, I’ve often found them quite boring. But I’m guessing I didn’t have the right books in front of me. I did not want to put this book down. Double bonus? I learned a lot about what was going on in France and the rest of Europe in the late 1700s. I love when I finish a book feeling smarter than when I picked it up.

This is the first in a series of three books about Josephine Bonaparte’s life. It ends on the day she marries Napoloeon. Book two, “Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe,” picks up where this one leaves off. I can’t wait to crack that one open. My goal was to read a different sort of book in between the books in this series — to keep them interesting and give me something to look forward to. However, I’m eager to get into the next one. Alas, today starts a new week and I do not have “Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe” and will be continuing on with my 52 in 2011 challenge with an unrelated book, “Still Alice.”

In closing, I highly recommend “The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B.”

Don’t forget: I’ll be keeping a running log of the books I’ve read and the ones up next on my list, as well as a rating of each book. Check out my list here. And if you have any suggested reading for me, I’d love to hear ‘em — just leave me a comment here or on my 52 Books in 2011 page.

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A Book a Week

I recently pledged to myself that I would work to find a better balance between my fitness regime and my regular life. As part of that, I’ve challenged myself to read a book a week. My deep love of reading has taken a back burner over the past few months as I hit the gym and took up running. And I wanted to return to it. So, for 2011, I will be reading a book a week. Up first: “The Elephant Keeper” by Christopher Nicholson.

Me with the book

Wrapping up book one of 2011.

When I reached the last page of “The Elephant Keeper” I actually had a smile on my face. This is a sign that it was a good book. That, and I recognized a little bit of sadness as I closed the book — because I had grown to really like the characters (both man and pachyderm) and felt like I was part of their story.

The story is told from the point of view of Tom, the elephant groom, who accidentally comes to care for a pair of elephants — and then write the history of one of the elephants. Because he is the son of a groom and not formally educated, much of the language is simple, and the spelling is often phonetic. I think this adds to the story, rather than takes away from it. And, trust me, usually I’m the first to pick apart the grammar and spelling in a novel.

The book was well written, and Nicholson really was able to capture the deep relationship between an elephant and her “keeper” — though it’s never really clear if Tom keeps the elephant of the elephant keeps Tom. Their relationship is more deep than many human friendships. Heck, probably even deeper than many marriages. I found myself longing to have that deep of a connection with someone — friend, partner, someone. The two knew each other as well as they knew themselves. Really, they were the only thing each of them had. I will say that Tom’s description of a dream where he is the elephant’s sexual partner is a little disturbing, it’s easy to see why and how he crosses that line. Jenny, as he lovingly calls the elephant, was the closest thing he had  to intimacy. And to make the leap from emotional intimacy to sexual intimacy is not difficult — especially in dream land.

I’m glad this book was the first one I read for my 2011 book-a-week challenge, as it was an easy read. Not because it was simply written or a simple tale. It was just a good, fun read that kept me interested and made me want to keep turning pages — even when I should have been sleeping. The story was told in an interesting way and allowed me to develop a relationship with both Tom and Jenny. To a certain extent, I could see why Tom felt a closer kinship with an elephant than he ever had any humans.

Note: I’ll be keeping a running log of the books I’ve read and the ones up next on my list, as well as a rating of each book. Check out my list here. And if you have any suggested reading for me, I’d love to hear ’em — just leave me a comment here or on my 52 Books in 2011 page.

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