Tag Archives: Love

Book Club Reflection: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

12 Aug

After two delays and someone else deciding to join us for our discussion, we were able to have a quick book discussion on Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s The Language of Flowers during lunch one day. Yay! We were very focused on her language because it fascinated us so much, so you’ll see that focus here.

We loved how the author described the foster system in America. Having read the author description, we understand that she knows a lot about it from personal experience and liked that she delivered a message about it without hitting us over the head with too much information.

A mother figure was obviously something Victoria lacked growing up. While it could have been Elizabeth, Victoria felt betrayed by Elizabeth and not ultimately aided by her. Renata was the type of mother figure that Victoria needed at eighteen. She was proud to be self-supportive and to have found a way to be useful and didn’t want anyone to shelter her. Renata made Victoria prove herself and the her best self before earning assistance. Renata provided her with food, shelter, and money when she needed it, but only as much as she needed exactly when it was necessary. She never coddled her which Victoria appreciated.

In some ways, Victoria seemed sheltered. She knew very little outside the foster care system and the things Elizabeth had taught her. Grant was sheltered in a similar way. He knew flowers; how to raise them, sell them, and use them. But he didn’t know a lot about how to interact with people or how to keep a house or deal with his emotional past. We felt that this bonded the characters together.

Victoria was a ‘scrappy’ character. I’ll use this world and not really have a good definition of it, so I asked Google, who says,

determined, argumentative, or pugnacious.

That seems perfect. She was out for herself in a rough way; resourceful seems a good word. She was easy to root for. I was afraid I wouldn’t like her at first, but her drive was wonderful and made the book for us.

Catherine seemed to suffer from some sort of mental illness, which was pretty apparent in her behavior. One of my fellow readers suspects that Elizabeth might have suffered as well. Her crippling fear that kept her in bed might have been a sign of something larger that was keeping her back.

The scene where Elizabeth wouldn’t get out of bed was such a turning point in the book and for each of the characters. Elizabeth had built up the day by buying a new dress and having Victoria count down the days to it, but then couldn’t follow through. It was no small matter for her to give up on that day. Our group was mad that Grant gave the baby to Elizabeth because we were afraid she would give up and crawl into bed again. Victoria was a girl when Elizabeth did that, but a baby couldn’t survive it.

We debated if this book had a ‘happy ending.’ I thought it did and that upset me because I wanted something, even if it was something small, to not work out for her. I felt (and the others agreed) that the ending was too clean. It was all bad knocks for Victoria and everything turned out okay, which is great, but we’re not sure if it’s entirely realistic. Could you really believe that everything was 100% alright? We couldn’t.

We talked about the yellow roses. Victoria’s dictionary defines them as ‘infidelity.’ The woman who sat with us during lunch said that she’d given yellow roses to a friend for a wedding recently. Hopefully that friend hadn’t read this book.

We asked what flower Victoria would give herself. We thought one with a message of ‘healing’ would be appropriate, but couldn’t find one in the dictionary with that message.

We talked about the flowers we’d give ourselves. S chose a purple coneflower, meaning ‘strength and health.’ With a smile, V chose strawberries; ‘perfection.’

The two of them chose for me. I would either get a bouvardia for ‘enthusiasm’ or a crocus for ‘youthful gladness.’

Our next book is Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn which I finished last week and absolutely loved. I look forward to the discussion!

Until next time, write on.

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Book Review: The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa (4/5). Proof that math is literary.

22 May

One of the lovely ladies of my book club recommended this book a while back. When we were looking for books to put on our schedule, I suggested we all give it a try. This book is so cute and little and the story itself followed suit. I’m so glad we all got to read it.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

The Housekeeper is a simple woman looking for a simple job keeping house. It’s the only thing she knows and she does it well. When she gets assigned to the professor’s household, there are a few side notes to consider. The man has been in a bad accident and his memory only lasts 80 minutes. Before the accident, the professor was a celebrated and talented math professor. His ability to do complex formulas and his lover for numbers have never left him and he still revels in the joy of prime numbers. When he finds out the Housekeeper has a young son, he insists that the boy come to his home after school instead of heading home to an empty apartment. Root and the Professor form a fast friendship that has to be re-established every day as the Professor forgets about his surrogate family. The Housekeeper and her son (nicknamed Root) overreach the duties of her assignment frequently in sacrifice for their new friend, the Professor

I adored this book. It made me happy and sad and it made me think. There characters were delightfully simple, not even having real names. It was like tapas; a quick little bite that made you want more, but there’s only one on the plate so you savor it.

Yoko Ogawa

Yoko Ogawa

The characters were very well-developed. I felt like the Housekeeper and Root were god representations of any single mother and son I’ve met. She was strong and determined and he was loving and attracted to a strong male figure. The Professor was a bit unbelievable, but that’s the best part about fiction; you can believe the unbelievable. I think his personality was consistent and likable. I felt so sorry for him throughout the book.

It’s hard to pick a favorite character. There were really only three major characters and all of them were so great. I think the Professor would have to be my favorite. He was quirky and hard to figure out at first and I felt like the Housekeeper as we delicately stepped around him, trying not to make waves and avoid getting sucked under by the current. His character became clear after a time because his personality didn’t change. Things that upset him at the beginning still upset him at the end. Because of his limited memory, he was a static character. The only change he made was in his memory capabilities. I loved that despite his memory loss, his brain was still more than capable of figuring out the most advanced math problems. I liked that he was still a strong character despite his disability.

I related most to the Housekeeper. I’m a person who likes to see my work all the way through, even if it’s beyond the call of duty. The lengths she went to with her position were very understandable to me. I admired her dedication to her clients and how thorough she was with all aspects of her life. I try to show extreme dedication to anything I decide to do and I could sympathize with her.

I loved the part of the book when they went to a baseball game. I enjoyed reading about the balance the Housekeeper and Root had to strike between telling the Professor the truth about the team and lies to cover up the years he had missed. I loved how protective the Professor was of Root and how much he cared about him. I know it was the turning point of the story, when the Housekeeper realized that he couldn’t live on his own any more, but it was still a happy scene in my mind.

I didn’t understand the brief period when the Housekeeper was fired from the Professor’s house. I think the sister-in-law overreacted and I thought it was unfair to the Professor to take away a Housekeeper that had been so good to him after the many previous housekeepers had obviously failed to assimilate to his quirks. It seemed very rash to me to fire someone for working past their end time, something that screams of dedication. I thought this part broke up the novel too much.

The message I take away from this book is that love is blind and maybe even forgetful. It didn’t matter to the Housekeeper and Root that the Professor didn’t remember them day-to-day or that to him they might not even be friends. They believed in their friendship with him and that made it strong. Even the sister-in-law could see that. Years later, they still loved the man and went to see him knowing that he would have not even the faintest idea who they were. I love the message of love and dedication that Ogawa gave us.

Writer’s Takeaway: I loved that this story was short and impactful. There are many times that I read a book and think, ‘This could have been 100 pages shorter.’ Not with this book. It was the perfect length and I loved how every moment meant something. I think we could all use a little less fluff.

Four out of five stars for a great impact and heart-warming story.

This book fulfills Foreign Country: Japan for my Where Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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Book Club Reflection: Just Kids by Patti Smith

18 Mar

I think discussion a memoir for a book club is the best kind of gossiping there is. We get to talk freely about someone’s life and criticize their memory and I feel privileged to do so. I guess that’s what you get if you ever write about yourself and publish it. I’ll have to take note of this.

My book club met last Monday to discuss our latest selection, Just Kids by Patti Smith. In my review I said that I felt removed from Smith because her fame was before my time. There were a few other people close to my age who felt the same way, but we were fortunate that our membership includes people who were in high school and college during the peak of her fame. Our discussion leader who chose this book is a huge fan of Smith’s and was very engrossed in the subject.

We all agreed that this book wasn’t really about Smith at all; it was about Robert. It was a story of how they lived together and above all it was a tribute to their love and a way for Patti to say that after all that had happened between them, she still loved him. We thought she hurt a lot more than him when they ended their romantic relationship together. She saw herself as Robert’s muse and not an artist in her own right. Robert pushed her to create and she likely would not have achieved her success without that push. He introduce her to the movers and shakers in their industry and got her foot in the door where it needed to go.

We asked ourselves what might have been different if Robert had written the book instead of Patti. I think he would have focused on her instead of himself. Patti glossed over her own fame toward the end of the book and how it took off so quickly. She was convinced to read a few poems and then wanted a guitarist to make her poetry different. From there she started writing songs, formed a band, and became widely successful. Robert’s last boyfriend even financed her first tour. I think Robert would have been fiercely proud of Patti’s success and downplayed his own notoriety. We also suspect that Smith used a lot more drugs than she let on and perhaps Robert would have given some insight into this. Our members felt that because of her family, she was reluctant to admit to her kids that she had been a part of the drug scene. Though, with a son who married Meg White of The White Stripes, I don’t think she’d surprise them. Smith has a new book coming out that we suspect will focus more on herself and her career. Maybe this is the book Robert would have written.

Robert’s relationship with his parents was complicated. We were surprised at how confident he was in his ability to be an artist given the strict religious upbringing he had and how it didn’t incite confidence in artistic ability. We questioned how long he had been in New York before het met Smith and suspected that the time he spent pursuing fame before he was introduced to the reader could have instilled that confidence. One part that was comical to me was when Robert was concerned about Smith moving away because his parents still thought they were married. It made us think that his parents must have not known about his art and we wondered how he planned to keep that secret from them. He seemed more worried about his sham of a marriage.

Of course we had to talk about Smith herself. She seemed very hard on herself and critical of anything she ever created. One of our members recalled her father telling her she wasn’t pretty enough to get married and we suspect that comment came from her early pregnancy. We thought it was so interesting that her look was so androgynous while she was in New York. One of our members couldn’t tell Robert and Patti apart in the pictures. That might even be because Mapplethorpe wanted her to look like him or himself to look like her. Even Alan Ginsberg couldn’t tell her gender just looking at her. I wonder how much of this escape from traditional feminine beauty was because of what her father said.

We wondered about why Smith would have been so successful so quickly after Robert fought an uphill battle for his own notoriety. One suggestion is that her medium was a lot more mainstream at the time, even if her style was different from anyone at the time. I suspect that the publicity of the 1970s would have lent itself more to a performance artist than a print artist.

New York City itself was a large player in Smith’s story. They were both so driven to make it in such a harsh and unforgiving place. The Chelsea Hotel was the point where they started living in an artist’s world and rubbing elbows with the right people. It was a Mecca for starving artist and that glamorous lifestyle. We wondered why the landlord would take art as a security deposit. The book portrayed it as his love for art and his support of starving artists. More likely, he know that the tenants were so attached to their portfolios that they would be sure to make payments to get them back.

The appeal of a memoir over an autobiography is that the writer doesn’t have to research the details of what happened to them and report them with 100% accuracy. They can write from memory, and sometimes memory is fuzzy. And sometimes, memories are altered by what we want them to be. We thought Smith glossed over the drug community that must have existed in the Chelsea Hotel. She claimed to not participate in it, but we were suspicious that she did more than she let on. She has children now and Smith wouldn’t want them knowing all the gritty details of her drug use. Wouldn’t Smith have been a bit of an outcast in the community if she didn’t share in the drug culture?

The member of our group who remember the 1970s emphasized how much this book is a result of the time. Before AIDS, free love had no consequences. There was nothing you could get that couldn’t be cured. (On a side note, Dallas Buyers Club depicts this beautifully as well.) Everyone wanted to rebel against the anger they had surrounding the Vietnam War and drugs were a way to do that. A few of our members recalled that those who they saw in the heavy drug culture and free love tended to be rich kids who felt it was a privileged scene. They were those who had enough money and support from home that they could afford the drugs and have a second chance if they messed up. For Smith, it wasn’t a ‘cool’ place to be; it was her life. She could have gone home so many times, but she didn’t. Did she stay because of Robert?

Smith name-dropped a lot in the book; Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin. Do we really believe it all? Or is this a part of the selected memory? Some of the people she would say she met in the Chelsea Hotel were already rich and famous. Why would they be living in what is described as such a run-down and dirty place? I feel that this might be one place where Smith’s memories wouldn’t check out with actual history.

The book was filled with so much loss; suicide, theft, death, and disappointment. It became commonplace, almost predictable, for Smith and Mapplethorpe. It was part of New York City for them. Our members recalled that NYC was a lot more dangerous in the 70s. Robert kept telling Patti he would protect her and he did.

Writer’s Takeaway: The group loved Smith’s writing style. It was clear that she was a poet who has a strong command with words. Her vocabulary was good, something uncommon in celebrity writing, and her style was very engaging. We liked the small vignette style and it reminded us of a diary. One members suspects that much of this book was re-written sections of Smith’s personal diary during the time she was in New York.

We’ll meet next month to talk about Kazo Ishiguro’s book Never Let Me Go. I read this title about a year ago so I won’t re-read it, but I’m so excited to discuss it!

Until next time, write on.

Book Review: Allegiant by Veronica Roth (3/5) A reminder not to change your narrator in the final book of a trilogy.

14 Mar

If you’ve been following, you saw me fly through Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy. I read Divergent and Insurgent not that long ago and on Saturday was able to finish Allegiant. I’m glad I read these so close together and didn’t have to wait for a release and I didn’t have to wait that long for this last book to disappoint me.

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Tris and Tobias have made it outside the wall. Now they are being forced to come to terms with what is beyond their known world and it’s a big surprise for them to find they’ve been inside a genetics experiment their entire lives. According to the Genetics Bureau, scientists in the distant past tried to create people with preferred genetics, getting rid of genes that led people to violence or a low intellect. The experiments backfired and the genetically damaged (GDs) were created. The lack of a certain gene in their bodies amplified other negative qualities. Those with pure genes (GPs) started work to help eliminate passing on damaged genetics and large experiments were set up in formerly thriving cities such as Chicago and Indianapolis. Tris, Tobias, and their friends have just escaped from the most successful experiment in Chicago. However, the violence in the city is threatening the future of the experiment and the Bureau is thinking of resetting the experiment by erasing the memory of all of those inside. Tris and Tobias  are appalled to see that the lives of their families and friends can be manipulated by these men so easily and develop a plan to stop them.

The first thing that struck me about this book was that Roth decided to change her point of view from Tris to a shared POV between Tris and Tobias. This bothered me from the beginning and started me off in a bad place while reading this book. Because of the changed setting, I felt like this book was very separate from the first two. The enemy seemed to be very different and it was hard for me as a reader to learn all the new characters in the Bureau so quickly. This book seemed like a blur to me and not a lot of it stuck very well.

I like that Roth used this world to deal with deep issues. The first book spoke to me about family and love. The second dealt with censorship and standing up for what is right instead of what is easy. This final book spoke about not limiting your self and sacrifice and I think Roth addressed these in ways that are accessible to her YA audience. Kudos to her for that.

A lot of the book dealt with sacrifice. Tris feels that sacrificing herself for her family and faction is brave and since a Dauntless strives to be brave, she should make the sacrifice. She speaks with Tobias who reminds her the Abnigation only believed in self-sacrifice if it was the ultimate way to show someone who you loved them. Her self-sacrifice to Erudite in the previous book did not do this and she started to see that it was not brave. When someone is needed to sacrifice them self to stop David from resetting the experiment, she doesn’t volunteer and when Caleb does, she tries to reason with herself that it’s not revenge to see her brother die, but the only way he can show he loves her. I like how Roth defined self-sacrifice for this series because it made me think about why we give up the things we love and if it’s the right reason to do so.

When Tobias finds out that he is a GD, he instantly begins to doubt himself and try to limit his own abilities because he lets this label define him. Tris challenges him not to limit himself and though it takes him a while to see the truth, he is able to do this. I really like this message and I think it subtly addresses discrimination. I’m a woman but that label shouldn’t define me. Those of any minority that are told they are less because of who they were born to be shouldn’t listen. You have to stand on your own two feet and your own abilities to be who you are and never let someone define you. Tobias believed in himself before his genes were analyzed but when his own identity changed, he lost faith. Tris was his rock that helped him believe in himself.

I’m going to stop my comparison to The Hunger Games after reading Allegiant. While Katniss and Tris are both fighting against their governments to gain some freedom for their friends and family, I feel Katniss was more out for herself, trying to survive. She didn’t want to be the Mockingjay of the revolution and was always asking after her mom and sister. Tris, on the other hand, sacrifices herself and knows it will hurt the one person who is the closest to her for the good of the community. Tris is a lot more selfless, fitting of an Abnigation born.

Writer’s Takeaway: It was clear by the end why Roth decided to have multiple POV in this book, but it was really distracting for me. Having read the first two very soon before this one, I was used to Tris narrating everything and as soon as I got into Tobias’s head, I would be confused and checking the beginning of the paragraph to see who was talking. Their voices were too similar. I didn’t like such a drastic change in narrator so deep into the trilogy. What if Gale narrated half of Mockingjay? Yeah, not cool.

I thought Tris was very trusting of certain characters, Matthew in particular, which seemed out of character for her. In the first book, she was very slow to trust anyone, even Christina. If there was a character change that should have supported this, I didn’t see it.

Overall it was a fitting end to the story but the style of it retracted from my enjoyment. 3 out of 5 stars.

Until next time, write on

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