Book club review – The Good Lord Bird

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The Good Lord Bird by James McBride – (Amazon link here)

Book Cover

I love the way one Goodreads reviewer stated it “If Mark Twain and Mel Brooks had ever collaborated, they would have invented a comic character like (the narrator).” That is SUCH a fantastic way to characterize this!

The narrator is Henry(Etta) Shackleford who is the child of a slave who is “freed” by a band of crusading abolitionists led by John Brown. Brown rather clumsily ends up killing Henry’s father in the act of freeing him and so feels compelled to take in the orphaned child. Written using the language and phrasing of the time (1800s Kansas) the tone is frequently comical and, of course, child like since Henry is gauged to be about 11 or 12 when he is absorbed into Browns motley group of “soldiers”. Oh, and right from the start Henry is mistaken for a girl and while he is at first confused and wants to correct that error, he quickly realizes that the indignity of wearing a dress is mitigated by the fact that he is not expected to fight, and he decides that is just fine with him!

There are two main stories running through the book. Henry’s own personal story and the telling through his eyes of the people and events of the abolition movement culminating in the raid on Harper’s Ferry and John Brown’s capture and eventual hanging. It is at this point that I will confess to having to stop and look up the names of the historically based characters such as John Brown, Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas to be reminded of actual roles.. Yes, 30+ years later those high school history classes may have faded from memory!

Most of the time, Henry thinks Brown is just bat-shit insane. And it seems as if most of John Brown’s army judges him similarly but they are also scared to death of him and also, completely drawn in to his obsession with believing that he is doing God’s work by freeing the slaves. Brown is described as basically OCD with his ability to launch into prayers and sermons for hours on end, then burying himself into the study and drawing up of maps and plans for the next attack on the slave holders. In fact, he would get so caught up in his own missives with the lord and hyper planning that he would be completely blind to the people who betrayed him along the way. At one point, Henry describes The Old Man “He was a good, kind lunatic and he couldn’t no more be a sane man in his transactions with his fellow white man than you and I can bark like a dog, for he didn’t speak their language.” At the end though, in his final conversation with Brown as the old man sits in a jail cell the night before his hanging, Henry finally concludes that Brown was perhaps more sane and insightful than he seemed:

‘The old face, crinkled and dented with canals running every which way,  pushed and shoved up against itself for a while, till a big old smile busted out from beneath ’em all, and his gray eyes fairly glowed. It was the first time I ever saw him smile free. A true smile. It was like looking at the face of God. And I knowed then, for the first time, that him being the person to lead the colored to freedom weren’t no lunacy. It was something he knowed true inside him, I saw it clear for the first time. I knowed then, too, that he knowed what I was – from the very first.’

I highly recommend reading this book. Even though the topic is really heavy of course, and there is plenty of blood shed – it is told in such a way that I ended up laughing many times and thoroughly enjoying my time spent with The Onion (Henrys nickname) and The Old Man.

In fact, there are so many fun phrases such as “moral susion” (aka booze) and “hive the bees” (round up the folks) that my fellow book club members and I couldn’t help, but throw them around a bit at our gathering. We did talk about the book for, oh, five? minutes and the 3 of us who read it did like it a lot, and I was happy to find out I was not the only one who ran to Wikipedia for a quick history brush up! We’ve also managed to hive a couple more bees so the next gathering there could be up to six of us! Hopefully we all get to read the book this time – but, if not, we will still have a lovely time chatting around some good food and moral susion 🙂

Oh, the next book, after some false starts, will be This House is Haunted by John Boyne.

The false starts? Well, our hostess quite generously printed out a lovely flow chart of books in varying genres for all of us (she also handed out some lovely bookmarks & porcelain cups, and the rest of us stated there won’t be repeats of such things at our houses because we are not that organized or creative!). We decided to take one of the flow charts down to the dart board in her game room and simply throw darts at the titles to see what “hit”! Unfortunately we didn’t first make sure all the titles are actually OUT yet and when I got home to send out the info to the group (I’m next hostess), I noticed that the book wasn’t available until July! So, I took a penny an closed my eyes and dropped it on the flow chart to maintain the integrity of our selection process (cough *RANDOM* cough) and THEN I made sure what it landed on is actually published. So there you go. Have fun reading along with us if you choose. Due to hiving some additional bees and overall Spring commitments, we decided to shoot for the end of April for the next meeting. Let’s go hunt some ghosts!

A New Book Club!

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I’ve wanted for years to join a book club. I love to read, but sort of like running I wont necessarily find the time to do it unless I have a race as a goal…or, in this case, a book club assignment! The last time I really read a lot of books was in 2010 & 2011 after I had inherited my high school friend’s books when she passed away and I went through every one before donating them. It was fun to whittle down the pile on my dresser from what looked massive to those last few.

But since then I started my copy writing venture and then volunteered for football team duties and took up running and…yeah..book reading has fallen away again. Then over the holiday break a new friend from football and I were on Facebook commenting on another mutual friends’ page about how jealous we were over her 10+ year long book club groups and could we join and…? Aw shoot, they were too full (of course), so we decided to just go out on our own and start one! A leap of faith! We had a quick discussion about what we generally liked, then I got luck when a twitter friend recommended a book and we had our first one picked! I had a third person in mind to ask about joining and she was in too!

Our book is The Good Lord Bird by James McBride. (Amazon link here)

We will get together later this month for our inaugural meeting. I am sure it will be much more about sipping wine and getting to know each other (the other two have never met and the longest I’ve known either of them is 14 mos) so it anticipate that the book itself will barely be discussed.

OTOH, since it is historical fiction we’ve already talked about how we all had to look up some of the references in the plot because we had no idea how critical these people’s roles had been in reality! It seems that 25-30 years removed from history classes means some details may have slipped away…shocking eh?

So – how many of you are in book clubs? We anticipate that ours will be VERY casual with little, if no, rules as far as choosing books and making presentations and such. I am curious about what other people do though. I also look forward to having books assigned by other members that might push me to read something outside my comfort zone and perhaps discover a new author or genre that I wouldn’t otherwise have chosen.

If you want to join in virtually – please do! I wont review the book here until we’ve had our gathering in a couple of weeks so that I can share the other perspectives too.

Say It Ain’t So Mike!

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Long ShotIt’s been about a week now since I finished the book. If you read any of my tweets while I plowed through it, you know already that I am deeply conflicted. First of all, I should be fair and link to the Amazon Kindle purchase page just in case you want to experience this for yourself. Long Shot If you don’t follow me on twitter or missed any of my blurbs, here are my 140 character reactionary bursts:

Piazza Tweets

I read some of the review on Amazon and it is interesting to see that about 1/2 the folks there who wrote one came away with the same taste in their mouths.

Mike Piazza, the person writes with a voice that is deeply insecure, defensive and quick to assume that anyone who EVER does ANYTHING he doesn’t agree with is somehow out to get him. For a guy who is writing this book with the intention of PROVING that he earned every accolade he receives on his own merits vs on the backs of his dad and his familial connection to the Dodgers organization – he utterly blows it.

In my humble opinion, every time he tried to clarify some detail from his past that he thought had been improperly sourced by the media, he simply dug himself into the mess deeper. It became a case of “I think he doth protest too much” on so many topics.

That’s not true of everything he tries to debunk. For instance, I do still believe that he never injected himself with any PED’s. I also think he is not gay. Both those rumors seemed easy enough for him to debunk and they came across as much more straight forward topics in his way of addressing them. At any rate – he didn’t seem to be WHINING about them as much!

When he whines is when he talks about nearly every personal and professional relationship he has while in the MLB. At some point he ends up disappointed in, or hurt by, or just plain angry at everyone. Along the way he ADMITS he has a chip on his shoulder and that he knows it sounds like he is making tons of excuses for himself but he just continues barreling down that path every time.

His interpretation of Vin Scully interviewing him while he was in his contract negotiation with the Dodgers – when he describes it as Vin “throwing him under the bus” is just absurd. Whether you read the transcript he puts in the book, or just go find the interview video online and watch it – I cannot see ANY evidence to support that claim! Especially given that Scully is otherwise never mentioned – clearly has NO vendetta or reason to spin anything against Mike – and clearly never DID.

I see that as encapsulating the entire problem I have with the book – everyone is out to get Mike and gosh darnit he’s going to show just how everyone did at every twist and turn in his career and if you don’t believe him then you are in on it too!

SIGH………………………

Poor embittered Mike.

On the other hand, there are also some really really enjoyable portions of the book for anyone who is simply a fan of the game. For all the whining and me me me presented – I do think Mike ADORES the game. Baseball was his obsession from the time he was very young. A pretty healthy set of OCD rituals made him enough of a standout that even when he was clearly taking advantage of opportunities presented to him thanks to his father’s connections, it was still up to him to make people take notice. The story of Ted Williams doing just that is darn awesome. Piazza’s own awe at that event is very well expressed. In fact, his overall writing style is pretty well done. Obviously the negatives came through loud & clear!  Since Mike is just a few years younger than me, his childhood baseball memories parallel mine and it was fun to relive those years through his eyes.

And I was very very pleasantly surprised to read the chapter on his time in San Diego. It seems to have been the one season that he focused on just being happy and enjoyed playing the game. How could he not when he got to play in the best city ever and have fans like these:

Padres Photo Day April 2006

Padres Photo Day April 2006

I will cheer just as loudly WHEN he gets into the Hall of Fame (and he should) as I would had I not read the book and discovered the less charming sides of his personality. He does a mighty fine job of tooting his own horn, but I do think he worked hard to get to that point. I am just sad to see that he still thinks he needs to prove some things – and I cannot help but wonder if it is more about proving things to HIMSELF vs to the rest of us.

May 16th – Beware of the cookies!

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Note to self: – no matter HOW tempting it is to get one those big ass cookies from the cafeteria after lunch – DON’T.

I’m pretty sure the amount of will power it takes to push past the sugar drop from that thing and remain focused at work is greater then pushing myself to keep running up that damn hill around the corner from my house.

It probably doesn’t help that I was inclined towards feeling down after seeing that 15 did not improve his math grade after the last unit test. I mean, it isn’t WORSE, but it also isn’t BETTER and he really needs to bring that up to play football. He’s got one more unit test and homework packet and the final to do it. I suppose I should be happy that he maintained at this point. Argh.

AP history test is tomorrow. We have to be at the testing facility at 7am to check in for an 8am exam! Oh – fun fun fun times I tell ya.

At least the day (pre-cookie) was otherwise productive and fun. I blazed through work AND caught up with some friends while coordinating the purchase of tickets for a hastily announced Adam Lambert concert in July up in Costa Mesa. It’s the Orange County fair venue again where I went on back to back nights back in 2010. GREAT setup there. I didn’t even mind possibly getting back section tickets again since those were plenty fine. But – the sent out a message after 10pm last night that fan club members could get in on a pre-sale this morning. General sale starts Sat. Being at work with a good internet connection I figured I had a decent shot so I contacted my two other Adam fans friends who I knew might not have the best chance to get in on the action this morning. We had fun texting back and forth as a few of us got online together and managed to buy a grand total of 5 tickets. Yes, just FIVE! They were allowing 8 per member, but I don’t know if ANYONE got that many at once. After about a dozen attempts to secure a block I threw up my hands and said “Fine! If I only get one for myself, so be it!” Got one right away and it is an awesome seat. thinking of my friends I went in again and got another single. Then another member on the site messaged me that she had 2 extras she would sell in the same section as one of my singles. SOLD! So, I have four secured. Already promised two to a friend. I knew I could get rid of any extras quickly!

Riding off the high from that I knocked out more stuff at my desk and then took a post-lunch (I eat at my desk) break to start organizing and printing out the new info on pergolas that I had found so that I can update the ebook and website with even better info and  instructions. It was at that point that my brain crashed.

“I’m full.” it said. “No more information input please.”

I toyed with the idea of not running as planned tonight. I’ll probably cut the work day short tomorrow due to the AP exam. Can’t imagine going back to work after I pick up 15 from the test (hey, mom’s get lazy excuses too!) so I figured in addition to running some cat related errands that I would also, you know, run run in the afternoon tomorrow as a bonus. But – driving home I started perking up and decided that I really NEEDED to run in order to have any amount of focusing ability tonight so I planned on going my mid-range route of 2.6 but could cut it short if needed.

Oh, and did I never need! I stopped running at the two mile mark and walked home the last little bit. And those 2 miles were a STRUGGLE. Ah well, at least I did run and I probably will run another short route again tomorrow so – whatever.

I’m spending the rest of the night reading the new book that arrived yesterday:

Laterz

Dear Molly

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I need some coaching on how to properly take a week off of work. Perhaps I need to define “work”? To be more clear then, I am taking the week off of my day job. I looked at the calendar and realized that thanks to some software upgrades and new purchases, April-June would not be great times to turn in an entire week of vacation. Of course, then we roll into the summer year end audit season which means that July-Sept are ALSO not the best months to take a full week either. So, basically at the spur of the moment I knew the only week I could take off was this one.

So, what have I done with this “found” time?

Well, the weekend that kicked it off was kind of shot to hell with the high school events. I believe that I adequately described why I considered it shot to hell earlier. Anyhow, after scooting out of the memorial brunch as fast as I could on Sunday, and after making sure there was food for the boys and that 15 was completing his homework, I did what I needed to do to clear my head of the icky feelings – I buried myself into a book. Out of My League by Dirk Hayhurst AKA, The Garfoose!

As with his first book, I absolutely loved this! I started reading it at around 4pm and finished it at a little after midnight. In between I had laughed, tweeted out some of my favorite lines and even shed a few tears. Bullpen Gospels was my favorite book of 2010 and I wouldn’t be surprised if Out of My League is my favorite of 2012. There IS stiffer competition this time around. Both my weekend TV boyfriend Chris Hayes and my all time favorite media hostess Rachel Maddow have books out this year. However, I doubt those two will be quite a sweet blend of goofy baseball stories and personal growth 🙂

The timing was perfect. Thanks to The Garfoose, my mind was in a much better place starting off the week. So what fun stuff have I done?

Spring Cleaning of course. My floors upstairs and downstairs haven’t looked this clean since I moved in. I Bissel cleaned the stairs and my bedroom (thank you barfing cats for all those green and yellow stains). I treated the downstairs pergo floors with Murphy’s Wood Oil. The long handled ceiling duster came out and spiders were displaced all around the house. 26 had chopped up a bunch of overgrown bushes on Saturday so I chopped up the debris more to fit it into our three garbage cans. Somehow he cut down just enough to fit those three – pretty clever eh?

I’ve watched/listened to more Content curation and SEO instructional videos. Wrote more pages and research topics for more blog posts. Prepared a tax return for a client. Met with Eve to discuss more potential website work for her clients that would translate to $ more quickly.

IOW – other than reading the book – I’ve pretty much worked while I took a week off of work!  I haven’t even gone for a run! Lord, I need help with this whole idea of vacations!! I need to write 2 articles today and then (yay!) there is a one hour run planned for later.

Tomorrow afternoon 15 has his first behind the wheel driving lesson. Oh! My lord – get THIS Molly! My insurance rates didn’t double – they TRIPLED! Tripled. I mean, I knew they would because I vaguely remember that happening when 26 started driving, but….OUCH. Another reason why that little lazy ass needs to get his grades up. I couldn’t even check off the “Gets a B average or better at school” GAWD!

To relieve the stress from that, there is a renewal of the circuit training classes on Saturdays now (double yay!) with Coach T. After an hour of that we have a…(gulp) TWO HOUR RUN! Yes, I know, I don’t need to exactly follow the training routine of my triathlete friends, BUT, it’s a great way for ME to challenge my running endurance and also to get faster at my 5K distance. So….three hours of workouts.

I expect that on Sunday I will be sofa bound. Finally! One day when I will literally VACATE life 🙂

Swing by and bring me a beer on Sunday OK?

Love, Me.

I suppose if you LIKE being depressed…..

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I like to be a contrarian sometimes. Sometimes? Oh hush.

The following four things receive HIGH HIGH HIGH Critical Acclaim. Oprah’s Book Club! Grammys! Oscars!

However, I will advise you that unless you WANT to run into the kitchen and swallow a bottle of anti-depressants with that bottle of vodka and slip away into the night…well….then you’d be doing yourself a favor to avoid them.

I’m fairly convinced that even the happiest, most plucky, glass ALWAYS full among us would be in danger of deep depression after exposure to what I think are the most soul sucking pieces of literary, film & musical drivel to be foisted on our senses.

Behold! Your sure fire cures for a severe case of joy:

Sarah McLachlan

There is no denying that she has a very lovely voice. Soothing perhaps….IF she used it for good. But, she uses it for evil. Depressing, go to sleep forever evil. In fairness, I *have* seen her live. And yes, she is JUST as bad on stage. Lordy girl – can you please sing/write SOMETHING with some pep? You can celebrate love and life you know.

Tell me you haven’t had your TV on sorta on auto-pilot, heard the opening strains of “In The Arms of An Angel”, seen the images of animals wasting away and though “GAH! No! Not AGAIN!” and wanted to gouge your eyes out?

Yeah, I don’t care WHAT she sings now. Like Pavlov’s dog, the sound of her voice makes me immediately feel sick in the pit of my stomach and tears well up. Thank you, but NO!

It’s a little easier to avoids books than it is to avoid music since radio stations can assault you and, as pointed out, TV commercials can jump up and bite you – but…..there is something about a depressing book that really insults you. First off – you all probably picked this one up thanks to Oprah, right? I know I did. That first year that she did her book club, I didn’t read anything unless she had recommended it. I was doing OK until this one popped up. What in the hell is appealing about a book where literally everyone dies at the end including the only couple of characters you might have liked? Or, if they are not literally dead, they might as well be because the way the ending is written it is clear that those still breathing wish quite deeply that they weren’t? Who writes this thinking a reader wants to spend several nights immersed in this? Isn’t a book supposed to be a way of ESCAPING reality? And a book takes time and EFFORT to read. A song is a mere 3 minutes of hell. A movie is over in 2-3 hours. A book? That’s usually several days of a few hours here and there depending on how long and how fast you read.

Of course, it is my own problem that I almost NEVER stop reading a really bad book. I stubbornly plug away to the end hoping against all evidence that things will turn around.

Yes, I *was* smart enough NOT to the movie adaptation of this horrible mess.

However, I was NOT smart enough to remember how Oprah had burned me. Because years later when I inherited Jacqueline’s collection of novels which included a fair amount of Oprah Book Club selections, I got suckered again:

Holy hell in a hand basket! First you spend over 100 pages reading about how FABULOUS this family thinks they are…then it all goes downhill from there and one by one they are all exposed to be the shells of human beings that they are. No hope. No learning. No growing. Just mind numbing depravity & self destruction. Again – why the ever loving heck did I read this until the end? Ok, read is generous – I skimmed. But…ugh!

As often as I have marveled at how amazing it is that JK Rowling walked around with the Harry Potter stories in her head, wafting around in her over-sized imaginary glands until she could get them all out on paper – I feel deeply SORRY for authors who carry around tales like those two! I mean, really, how did THEY get through life with the ability to even crack a half-assed smile?

But then – we come – to THE biggest waste of time EVER – which won it’s industry’s highest possible honor (WHY WHY WHY?):

To quote Elaine from Seinfeld : “That movie SUCKS!”

Pretty much, yep.

So in conclusion – if you find out that someone plans on watching The English Patient after spending the day reading The House of Sand and Fog and listening to Sarah McLachlan CD’s…..just go ahead and call the suicide hotline on their behalf. They will thank you later.