Readings for World Elephant Day

August 12 is World Elephant Day. These amazing creatures are in crisis and it’s largely down to human behavior. In the past ten years, their numbers have decreased 62%.

See the World Elephant Day website for more information, including ways we can help.

Since education is always an important component of any venture, here’s a recommended reading list:

Last Chain on Billie elephants

 

Last Chain on Billie by Carol Bradley. An examination of one elephant’s life in the context of a shameful history of abuse of circus animals in the U.S.

 

Eye of the Elephant

The Eye of the Elephant by Delia Owens and Mark Owens. The story of how one couple took on elephant poachers in Zambia and did their best to assist local communities at the same time.

 

 

Ivory

Ivory: Power and Poaching in Africa
by Keith Somerville. The ivory trade is the biggest threat elephants face. Poachers have decimated populations in order to get tusks to trade. Worse, much of the profit ends up funding terrorism. Don’t buy ivory!

 

One easy thing we all can do is limit our consumption of foods containing palm oil. Palm oil plantations have wiped out swaths of habitat for elephants and other wildlife.

Happy World Elephant Day! Let’s celebrate by working to save them.

 

 

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Fathers in Memoir and Fiction

I meant to have this done and posted yesterday, but life had other plans for me. Squeaking in just before Father’s Day is over, I present you with a list of books featuring dads.

Beautiful Boy by David Sheff. In this memoir, Sheff speaks about the pain of having meth as a rival for his son’s devotion. He questions his parenting. He sees his hopes raised and dashed repeatedly. And then there’s the effect on his other kids. As any parent of more than one child can tell you, any decision you make for one has ramifications for the others.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. Eggers is a brother who filled a father’s role. He was only 21 when his father and mother both succumbed to cancer within a few weeks of each other, leaving Dave in charge of his 8-year-old brother. This memoir had me laughing and crying, often at the same time.

Love in the Driest Season by Neely Tucker. Neely Tucker, a white American journalist, recounts the story of how he and his black wife, Vita, relocated to Zimbabwe, where they volunteered at an orphanage and fell in love with a little girl who they believed might have AIDS.

Plainsong by Kent Haruf. Written in spare, but beautiful prose, this novel introduces us to small town high school teacher, Tom Guthrie, who is raising his two sons by himself. Meanwhile, he’s dealing with a student who bullies, a student who is pregnant, fellow teacher Maggie Jones, and wait – how do two bachelor farmer brothers come into this picture? Read and find out.

Shit My Dad Says by Justin Halpern. What started as a Twitter account turned into one of the funniest memoirs I have ever read. At 28, Halpern lost his job and moved back in with his 73-year-old dad.  “Remember when you used to make fun of me for being bald?…No, I’m not gonna make a joke. I’ll let the mirror do that.” People who get the vapors over cursing should avoid it. Despite being extremely salty, Halpern’s dad does seem to have his son’s best interests at heart, in the end.

Silas Marner by George Eliot. In today’s world, Silas Marner would never be approved to adopt a child. But in Eliot’s novel, the reclusive miser turns out to be a pretty good father to the little girl who wanders into his life. Father and daughter both learn love really is more important than money.

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley. In this novel, the setting is a Midwest family farm in the 1970s. But the seemingly average Cook family is living out a 20th-century version of Shakespeare’s King Lear, complete with the division of the estate, the exile of one daughter, the love triangles and the onset of patriarchal madness.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Atticus Finch is one of the greatest literary fathers of all time. He is wise and kind and understanding of his children, while holding expectations of the same behavior from them. Then there’s his courage in standing up for the underdog. “Truth, justice and the American Way” – Superman, or Superdad Atticus Finch?

The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig. This novel, set in 1909 Montana, is narrated by the oldest of widower Oliver Milliron’s three boys. Their father hires a housekeeper through a newspaper ad, a housekeeper who brings along a character of a brother, and a mystery.

Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell. Though Ree Dolly’s father is more talked about than shown, the reader certainly comes to know a lot about him. The things we find out right way are: he has drug charges pending against him, he has put up the family home as bond, and he can’t be found. It’s up to 16-year-old Ree to find him and thus save the home.

Book List: Mothers in Fiction and Memoir

For Mother’s Day, a list of some books featuring moms:

American Mom by Mary Kay Blakely. The former Ms. Magazine editor’s memoir of raising her two boys. It’s insightful, touching and real. I once heard Blakely tell a funny story about this book’s title. She said she wanted to call it “Raising Terrorists,” but bowed to her publisher’s wishes and called it “American Mom” instead. One day, running late to a book signing, she was pulled over for speeding, and had to explain to the police officer how she was on her way to sign copies of her book American Mom. At that moment, she said, she realized how smart it was to listen to your publisher.

Beloved by Toni Morrison. In this post-Civil War novel, a lost soul reappears. Sethe, a former slave, is consumed with mourning for the young daughter who died years earlier. One day, the daughter’s spirit arrives on Sethe’s doorstep in the form of a young woman. Through her we see the ghosts of slavery are not easily banished.

Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen. How do you report spousal abuse when the spouse who beats you is a police officer? You don’t. You pack up your son and sneak away with him, doing your best to build new identities and become untrackable. I think this novel has one of the best endings I’ve ever read. Not tidy, though.

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. The mother in this novel, Enid Lambert, comes to a realization: “What you discovered about yourself in raising children wasn’t always agreeable or attractive.” Still, Enid dreams of one last family Christmas with their three grown children before the health of her husband, Alfred, declines too much. Their kids’ lives are falling apart in different ways, and Enid’s campaign to bring them together reveals the weaknesses and the strengths of their family ties. There are power struggles galore but also acts of incredible love and self-sacrifice, which gives them a lot in common with many real-life families.

The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacqueline Mitchard. Why did I read this novel when my children were young? Do not read this if you have young children. Read this if your children are big or you have no children. A very busy mom loses one of her three kids. Poof – he vanishes. It’s a good book, a compelling read. Disturbing if your kids are near the age of the one who disappears.

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler. This was the first Anne Tyler novel I ever read. What I love about Tyler’s characters is how close they come to self-awareness without ever quite arriving. Pearl raises three children on her own after her husband leaves, a piece of trivia she neglects to mention to the children. He is traveling salesman, and the youngsters go on for a while thinking he’s simply away on business. The three kids grow up with a fair amount of sibling rivalry and do their best to create the next generation of family messiness.

I Been in Sorrow’s Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots by Susan Strait. Upon her mother’s death in 1959, teenager Marietta Cook – tall and strong and blue black – leaves her home in Pine Garden, South Carolina, a place forgotten by time. She heads to Charleston to seek her future. The novel follows her life through the birth and raising of twin boys, right into grandmotherhood.

Juno’s Daughters by Lise Saffron. A mom and her two daughters who live on an island in Washington state find a summer of interaction with Shakespearean actors transformative.

Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson. There was more to Shirley Jackson than making us confront our worst natures. This memoir of life with her children and husband is laugh out loud funny. It is several decades old, however, so be prepared to cringe over all of the smoking and the lack of seatbelts.

Mother on Fire by Sandra Tsing Loh. This memoir will resonate with any mother who has found herself drowning in navigating the waters of kindergarten enrollment. Though it’s not quite so treacherous where I live. You will laugh as you recognize yourself and other parents in the anecdotes she recounts.

Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott. Lamott’s memoir of her first year of motherhood. She speaks truth in ways most of us are too wimpy to. Also, she’s very witty.

Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin’s. This is the tale of an elderly woman who vanishes one day from a Seoul train platform. From the first pages, it’s apparent Mom has been gradually disappearing for years, as her children have grown busy with their own lives and her husband has paid her little attention.

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan. Terry Ryan’s memoir is a tribute to her resourceful mother. While her alcoholic husband invested his wages in liquid assets, Evelyn Ryan kept her family of 12 afloat by composing advertising jingles for contests as she did the ironing. She converted her facility for language into money, cars, appliances and grocery shopping sprees while bequeathing her children the legacy of a can-do spirit.

Room by Emma Donoghue. This novel introduces us to a mother struggling to survive in extraordinary circumstances. Five-year-old Jack has spent his entire life in one room, just he and Ma, who makes sure Jack exercises, learns to read and eats the vegetables Old Nick brings on his otherwise unwelcome visits.

Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich. Not until the end of this novel do you discover who the real narrator is. Erdrich takes the concept of unreliable narrator to new heights. Much of the book is written in the form of excerpts from the diaries of Irene America, a Native American artist, wife and mother. Diaries is plural, because she keeps two: the one she wants her husband to find and read, which is at least partly fictitious, and the real one that she keeps under lock and key. The effects of their parents’ relationship games on the kids is not insignificant.

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang. I read this book maybe 12 years ago and it stuck with me. Chang tells the life stories of her grandmother, her mother and herself. Her mother was a young woman during the Cultural Revolution. May you live in interesting times indeed. Small personal moments of heartbreak and triumph are magnified by surrounding large historical events.

Does Listening Count as Reading?

For the first time in several years, I have a regular driving commute. Not to work. I still have the same job to which I walk. But my mom lives in town now, in a nursing home about five miles from my house.  That’s a 30 to 40 minute round trip, depending on traffic and weather. I’m making it out there five times per week, so far.

My attempt to make lemonade out of fossil fuels involves checking out lots of music CDs and audio books from the public library. Currently, I’m listening to Haven Kimmel’s memoir, “She Got Up Off the Couch.” I’m getting a real kick out of it. But I have a dilemma about what to do once it’s finished. See, I have these weird OCD habits about keeping a record of what I’ve read. Should I add this book to the list?

It was much simpler when my kids were little and I was listening to children’s audiobooks with them on occasion. Because my rules don’t require me to list things read for someone else’s benefit.

I’ve never counted seeing a movie the same as reading the book from which the movie was made. But this is an unabridged actual reading of the real text. Does it count as reading? Since my schedule is ever more full, I’m trying to make up for lack of looking at text time by using audiobooks as a substitute. I don’t have a problem with listening to a book. My only problem comes with saying, even just to myself, that I read it, when really someone read it to me. For purposes of accommodating my own personality quirks, I think I may have to embrace the asterisk as my savior.

 

Favorite Romances

I don’t read genre romances. I’m not knocking them; only saying they’re not my thing. But I am a sucker for a love story, happy or tragic or confused, as long as it’s well done. Sometimes the relationship is the story, and sometimes it’s only part of the bigger picture.  Off the top of my head, here’s a list of books with my favorite romances. These are in no particular order.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. This is a tale of two magicians, a girl and boy, bound into a rivalry as children. The venue of their lifelong duel is a magical, mysterious circus.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Oh Gatsby – you let Daisy consume you too much.

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. This series has two relationships I adore. Precious Ramotswe and JLB Matakoni is the first. Grace Makutsi and Phuti Radiphuti. They’re so real and sweet and awkward.

Second Nature by Alice Hoffman.  Nearly feral love with a semi-werewolf.

Emma by Jane Austen.  The intrepid match-maker who can’t see her own life clearly. For those who have never read Jane Austen and think she’s stuffy, you couldn’t be more wrong. This book is downright funny. Also touching.

Patchwork Planet by Anne Tyler. Flawed and wonderful characters who stumble through wrong relationships on their way to each other.