Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Five Books


Claire Tomalin's The Invisible Woman, a non-fiction work about Nelly Ternan, the supposed mistress of Charles Dickens [not enough evidence to confirm it, but the speculation runs high], does a thorough business of looking at this nineteenth century actress and her relationship with Dickens, but Tomalin's not convincing.
Since most of Dickens personal letters were destroyed at his request, what little remains of his correspondence has been studied extensively, not only by Tomalin but by others who desired to determine that Dickens had a mistress.

Why did they care? Did it affect how he wrote? What he wrote? His characters?


Tomalin divided her work into three parts. The first division, and the most interesting, covered the background of the Terman family with an in depth look at nineteenth century English theater and stage. The second section, and the least compelling, delved into the supposed two year intense relationship between Dickens and Terman, and the last documented the life of the Terman family after the death of Dickens.

Nelly Ternan led a strange life that's for sure, but what influence she had, if any, on Charles Dickens sure encouraged Tomalin to write a long book about her.

As much as I love the work of Charles Dickens, this book is a skip her.


BTW: I now have Tomalin's book on Thomas Hardy.
*shakes head*

Published in 2009, Abraham Verghese's Cutting for Stone  seemed to be on the reading lists of everyone I knew who was in a book club at the time. So many people asked me, “Have you read Cutting for Stone?” I'd answer in the negative.

Now, I have read it, and --- well...

Marion and Shiva Stone, born to Sister Mary Joseph Praise and Thomas Stone in Addis Ababa in 1954, are immediately orphaned. Their mother dies on the birthing table – the boys are co-joined, and their father, a gifted surgeon, flees the scene and abandons his children. Another doctor, Dr. Kalpana Hemlatha, known as Hema, and Dr. Abhi Ghosh take on the young boys and raise them. Thus begins the saga of the twins, a story told mainly in flashback by the oldest of the twins, Marion.

A hefty novel chronicling in detail and sometimes almost day by day events of Missing Hospital and the lives of the four main characters, the graphic violence and turn-the-stomach surgical procedures caused me to scan pages to get the gist of it since the descriptions were too much.

The title of the novel comes from the Hippocratic oath, but I think it's a pun. That's just me, though.



As much as I enjoyed Richard Russo's memoir Elsewhere about his mother, the story made me ache.

Growing up as an only child of a single mother in upstate New York, Russo considered his unusual circumstances normal. After all, his father, a gambler, a WW2 veteran, and a drunk, stayed nearby, and his maternal grandparents lived downstairs. His mother had a decent job, provided for him, and what she couldn't do, his extended family, an aunt and uncle, pitched in as they lived two streets over.

So what's wrong? According to Russo's absent but around the corner father, “you do know you're mother is nuts, right?” This statement delivered to Russo when he was twenty sent him reeling.

What? Nuts?

And “nuts” it seemed Jean Russo was. Intertwining her life with that of her son's didn't seem too odd to Rick until he applied for a college scholarship to the University of Arizona. When he received it, she announced to him that she was going with him ---not to college but to a town close by where she would get a job and be nearby. Packing up all they had, they drove cross country to their “new” life.

Nearby Russo became where his mother was and had to be for the rest of her life -- another almost thirty years.

As crazy as Jean Russo seemed, her son wrote her sympathetically. Each time Jean Russo went into breakdown mode, her son came to her rescue and nursed her through her “fugues.”

His dutifulness becomes admirable, and his mother's weakness only heart wrenching.

A powerful memoir, full of stories of loyalty and love, Richard Russo's narrative of his mother and her “condition” made me sad but proud of him for sticking with her.


A beautiful story of a friendship between two women, let's take the long way home by Gail Caldwell covers the author's relationship with Carolyn Knapp, a fellow writer, who will die young of lung cancer.

The memoir recounts how the two women met, bonded over their love of dogs, and then with time discovered that their commonalities ran much deeper. Just when the friendship seems at its strongest does the news of Knapp's illness and demise brutally sever it, and Caldwell's grief becomes palpable. As sad and real as it was, its honesty makes the brief journey with these two women worth it.


Almost any resident of the state of Georgia knows of the powerhouse of high school football that lies four hours south of Atlanta. Valdosta High School, the home of the Wildcats, holds state and national records for the most championships won. It's a bunch, and you can look it up if you care. :-)

In Must Win, journalist Drew Jubera spent the 2010 season following the legendary team and its new head coach, Rance Gillispie, as he attempts to put the floundering program back on track. For the previous ten years, the once renown football dynasty had posted losing seasons and had fired a succession of coaches for not maintaining  the winning legacy of Valdosta High School football. The  year before the once mighty football team had been routed by cross town rivals and upstarts Lowndes County.

An in-depth look not only at the history of the area, Jubera does an excellent job of capturing the game, the players, the fans, and the town that loves it all.

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