I've been reminded a couple of times that it's been while since I've posted anything about books that I have read. I've gotten caught up in taking care of business during the past couple of years as weaving guild president as well as trying to deal with family stuff. It's time to get back to me stuff, so in a step in that direction, here are a couple books that I've read this year that I can recommend.
The author was raised in a home where volunteering was valued so this wasn’t her first gig. She and her father had talked about a program where she would cook one night a week for the young men who lived in the group home her father had helped found and where he still worked. After his early death, she wasn’t sure she could go through with it, but with the blessing of his partner and co-founder Gerry, she inaugurated her program.
In her words, “this book is my story about dinners and conversations with six boys, or twenty-seven boys, living in foster care who were assigned to a group home run by the human services agency my father had confounded, there as a volunteer. It’s a story about the interconnectedness of food and memory, and community service and community care. This is also a story of modern America.”
There was a race against the system to get these young men who came in their mid-to-late teens be prepared for living on their own after they turned 18 and were released to whatever came next, another residential assignment or independence. Their assignment to the house was supposed to be transitional but sometimes there was no where for them to go and Frank was “transitionally” there for four years. He didn’t even have a birth certificate so his celebration dinner was whatever year he decided he was. You can’t help becoming attached to these lost and lonely boys and I absolutely fell in love with Leon.
This is a story of the interactions of the boys with the author over the dinners and it’s a story of food. When they were trying to decide what their dinners would look like, Hauck suggested they allow an hour for cooking and an hour for eating. Leon quite honestly asked, why don’t you cook and we eat? Expect to be charmed to pieces and expect to cry.
Suleika Jaouad developed a maddening itch during her senior year of college, so maddening that she subconsciously was tearing at her skin, causing oozing sores. A Chinese herbalist thought it was a parasite she had picked up while studying abroad. A doctor thought it might be eczema and prescribed cream as well as anti-anxiety medication. And then came the naps, hours worth.
Somehow she managed to get by, graduated and moved to New York City where she scored an unpaid summer internship. Even with nine roommates and a part time job, she was broke and tired all the time, just getting by with the help of caffeine and uppers. She knew she needed to leave, and since French is her first language, she found a paralegal job in Paris. Days before leaving the City she met Will while sharing a taxi, and who would become the love of her life.
Paris wasn’t the fantasy life she had imagined, However, she did start up a regular correspondence with Will that led to him going to Paris for a two-week visit, then back home to pack up and move. She was still plagued by fevers and fatigue even as they were growing into their relationship. During a routine visit for birth control pills the doctor told her she anemic and gave her an iron supplement. Fast forward to the diagnosis of undetected lymphoma which was now leukemia followed by years of radical treatment, searching for a cure.
After her final chemo treatment she decided to embark on a 100-day journey that would take her to the Pacific Ocean and back, a voyage of rediscovery to find herself, looking for the new normal - but first she had to learn to drive. A friend loaned her his Subaru for the trek. During her years of treatment she wrote a newspaper column and her goal was to visit some of the people who had written to her. The last quarter of the book was a chronicle of these visits and it was fully my favorite part.
She came away from her visit with Ned, recognizing that “there is no restitution for people like us, no return to days when our bodies were unscathed” and that “recover isn’t a gentle self-care spree that restores you to pre-illness state.” He tells her that he still struggles to carry the collateral damage of illness, and she realizes that they may always be. A doctor at Sloan Kettering explained that she was experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder - the horror of cancer didn’t end on the last day of treatment - it says, don’t get too comfortable because one day I’m coming back for you.
Following a purification ritual on the Pine Ridge reservation she says, “I’m realizing that if I am to cross the distance between near-death and renewal, instead of trying to bury my pain, I must use it as a guide to know myself better. In confronting my past, I have to reckon not only with the pain of losing other people but also with the pain I’ve caused others.” In the last visit of the book Katherine tells her “That’s all you can do in the face of these things. Love the people around you. Love the life you have. I can’t think of a more powerful response to life’s sorrows than loving.”
This was selected by my book club or I know I would never have chosen it nor would I have finished it, but it's a book that won't leave me and parts of it pop into my head from time to time. I recommend it as a fine piece of literature, not because it's a fun read.
"During the Nazis’ brutal siege of Leningrad, Lev Beniov is arrested for looting and thrown into the same cell as a handsome deserter named Kolya. Instead of being executed, Lev and Kolya are given a shot at saving their own lives by complying with an outrageous directive: secure a dozen eggs for a powerful Soviet colonel to use in his daughter’s wedding cake. In a city cut off from all supplies and suffering unbelievable deprivation, Lev and Kolya embark on a hunt through the dire lawlessness of Leningrad and behind enemy lines to find the impossible.
By turns insightful and funny, thrilling and terrifying, the New York Times bestseller City of Thieves is a gripping, cinematic World War II adventure and an intimate coming-of-age story with an utterly contemporary feel for how boys become men."