Monday, November 8, 2010

Tinkers, by Paul Harding

There's a reason books win awards. With the exception of one Pulitzer Prize winning book*, I think they are far superior to your average best selling novel. Tinkers, by Paul Harding, is no exception. This winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize is an under 200-page, $5.99 paperback gem that will make any careful reader slow down and ponder life.

George is dying. Tinkers compiles his thoughts and memories during the eight days before his death. The language is lyrical and, therefore, quite the opposite kind of book that won the same prize in 2009. The reader must think to read this; it is a short but challenging exercise for the mind and the soul. The writing grabbed me so fiercely that often I lingered on one page for a many minutes before feeling I could turn the page.

As George wrestles with the last of his life, he has some sentimental moments:

"When his grandchildren had been little, they had asked if they could hide inside the clock. Now he wanted to gather them and open himself up and hide them among his ribs and faintly ticking heart. When he realized that the silence by which he had been confused was that of all of his clocks having been allowed to wind down, he understood that he was going to die in the bed where he lay."

And as death looms, George has some very honest moments:

"...I will remain a set of impressions porous and open to combination with all of the other vitreous squares floating about in whoever else's frames, because there is always the space left in reserve for the rest of their own time, and to my great-grandchildren, with more space than tiles, I will be no more than the smoky arrangement of a set of rumors, and to their great-grandcildren I will be no more than a tint of some obscure color, and to their great grandchildren nothing they every know about, and so what army of strangers and ghosts has shaped and colored me until back to Adam, until back to when ribs were blown from molten sand into the glass bits that took up the light of this world because they were made from this world..."

It was interesting to read interviews with Harding, who studied under Marilynne Robinson at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her fingerprints are all over his writing. He also wrote portions the novel (his first, by the way), in an unusual manner. This kind of writing talent astonishes me, and I'm grateful that I get to reap the benefits of such a gift. For $5.99, you should, too.

*Disclosure: I am embarrassed to say that I have an exception to my Pulitzer-Prize-books-are-some-of-the-best rule. This summer I read this book, which won the coveted award in 2008. I hated it. I tried hard to make myself like it, but I just couldn't. You won't see a review on it here because I have nothing good to say about it. If you read it and have something nice to say, please let me know what was good about it so that I can figure out what is wrong with me.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Summer Reading Highlights

I hope the lazy days of summer found you surrounded by books. Here are summaries of some great ones I read during those hot months.

Home, by Marilynne Robinson - This one gets five, no make it ten, stars. A gorgeously constructed companion to Robinson's Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead, Home is the story of a wayward son who cautiously attempts reconciliation with the family he left decades earlier. The writing is just breathtakingly beautiful, and the plot is one that is easily grasped. Home addresses forgiveness, judgement, prejudice, history, and religion, but the overarching theme is that of grace withheld. My God-phobic friends will enjoy this, despite the repeated religious references. Read it, and search your soul for the person from whom you are withholding grace. This one had a profound impact on me.

The Power of One, by Bruce Courtenay- My family has been raving about this movie for over ten years, so when I saw it in the Classics section of my used bookstore, I grabbed it. The Power of One is set in South Africa in the 1940's. It attacks prejudice head-on and shows how just one person can make an enormous difference in the midst of cultural practices that seems insurmountable. The book was significantly better than the movie, but the music in the movie was so good that it is worth seeing the movie as well.

Sarah's Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay- This has spent some time on the New York Times' Bestseller List, and after reading it, I know why. The writing is, well, marginal. However, the story is one that needs to be read. Sarah's Key tells the story of the persecution of Jews in Paris, focusing on the raid in which Paris police ripped Jewish families from their homes, separated parents from their children, and sent them all off to concentration camps. This historical event is one that is not well known, but should be.

Lit, A Memoir, by Mary Karr - This one knocked my reading glasses off. Mary Karr's retelling of her journey into alcoholism, divorce, and motherhood is in astonishing account of self-reflection. Her writing is superb, and it should be; she is an award winning poet. I loved Glass Castle, but this was so much better. It is not a pretty or clean story. It is a look into someone who assess her life with brutal honesty, something that we don't see very much in our culture. The story becomes even more beautiful as she describes how her life is turned around. I highly recommend this one.

The China Study, by T. Colin Campbell - It's a long story as to how I ended up reading nutrition books this summer. Suffice it to say that this one was the best of the stack. The China Study is the compilation of one man's work over an entire career that shows how a vegan diet is the very best way for humans to eat. It had such an impact on me that I am now eating and cooking only plants. Many of my extended family members read it and have followed in my vegetable-loving footsteps. I'm not here to try to convince you to walk over to the dark side of vegan, but if you are worried about any kind of health issues, this is the book to read.

More reviews coming soon, I promise.