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by Peter Wohlleben

This is my book for Book 48 – A Microhistory

What a wonderfully interesting book this is. I experienced it as an audiobook and loved the narrator as much as I loved what he was narrating. It felt like I was being told secrets.

And in effect that is exactly what this book does. It tells you secrets. Amazing secrets about trees; about how they communicate and support each other, about how they care about each other, and how we create awful circumstances for them to live in.

I have always loved the idea of the slowness of trees and in this book a lot is explained about how and why trees live in the slow lane, and how that affects how they experience and react to life around them.

They are amazing life forms sorely misunderstood by humans because we do not slow down enough to see the effects of what we do, or how trees deal with situations. We do what we do and move on, assuming effects not immediately observed do not exist. Wait 4 decades and the trees will show you.

Also, the fact that they support each other by literally sending sick trees food makes me extraordinarily happy.

This book is packed with facts and new information that will make you gape in amazement and want to share it with everyone.

Throughout I kept thinking that finally the philosophical question “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” has been answered. A tree cannot fall and not be heard – the other trees hear.

An interesting, educational and delightful food well worth reading.

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by Sue Klebold
This book is my book for Book 10: A Book about death or grief
This is a most moving and life changing book written by the mother of one of the perpetrators of the Columbine Tragedy.
Dylan Klebold’s mother, Sue, narrated the version I experienced as an audiobook, and the pain is evident in her words and her voice.
In this book Sue Klebold tries to do many things – most of them successfully. I think she humanises the families of people who do awful things, she contextualises her son, she looks at how blaming the parents removes the opportunity to learn and possibly prevent future tragedies of this nature, and she exposes the complicated emotional and cognitive state of suicidal teenagers.
My hear broke, and continues to ache, for the Klebolds, and other families of people who do terrible things. I cannot imagine the agony of losing a child, and then to have that compounded by the fact that the world hates that child and blames you for creating the child. This was what Sue Klebold and her family were facing when Dylan and Eric did what they did. And as if that were not enough, she was unable to attend a single support group meeting or even talk opening about what she was going through to anyone, in case what she said was used in court!
That truly is cruel and unusual punishment.
Through out the book it is clearly important to Sue Klebold that a fuller picture of her son emerges. I did feel that occasionally the word ‘but’ could have been replaced with ‘and’ to avoid it sounding every now and then as though maybe she was trying to excuse or minimise what he did. I doubt this as her intention but occasionally I got a little uncomfortable with the lengths to which she went to tell us how wonderful he was immediately after saying what he did.
‘He killed these people but he also made origami animals’ has a subtle difference in meaning from ‘He killed these people and he also made origami animals’.
I feel the latter a better option. But I am not the mother of a dead child and this is not a major enough thing to damage my opinion of the book as whole.
I think one of the greatest values of this book, and sadly probably why not the right people will read it, is that is exposes the potential danger of simply blaming the family. We all sleep better in our beds if we believe the parents did something, or neglected to do something, that turned a child into a mass killer. If we believe that then we know it will never happen in our lives, because we are simply and obviously better people.
If we listen to and believe the Klebolds then the next mass killer could be any single child you know.
The Kelbolds ate dinner together most evening, the boys were hugged and touched affectionately, their parents did things with them, Dylan’s father and brother spend hours all together rebuilding cars, they visiting college options together and mapped out which room would suit the young man better. They talked and listened and disciplined without violence. They went to sporting events and did not abuse drugs and alcohol. If anything, I think Sue Klebod’s insistence on asking her son where he had been and what he had done when he came home after a night out had probably annoyed him the way it does teenagers. Teenagers seldom want that kind of deep engagement about their private lives.
They were loving, caring, present parents – and still this happened.
If we demonise them, then the children we raise in the same way are safe. If we acknowledge that they parented as we do, we have to face the fear that maybe any one of us could be unknowingly raising a child with the same potential.
And that is scary
And finally, Sue Klebold spends a lot of time talking about the fact that Dylan was suicidal and that she didn’t know. This for me is the most heart breaking because here she does blame herself to some degree. She asks frequently how did she not know.
But when she talks of the signs of depression in teenagers it sounds like regular teenage behaviour really. It is only after a suicide, as she believes Dylan’s whole intention that day was (albeit it an awfully gruesome one) that one can look back and say the moodiness, disengagement from parents, irritability, desire to sleep and even the use of drugs and alcohol were all signs of depression. I was a teenager who did all of that and was not even remotely depressed. I was just a teenager pushing boundaries and growing up.
If brain health issues were a more accepted thing, if we didn’t judge people who were struggling, then the Dylan Klebolds of the world would be able to ask for and get the help they need, preventing so many other deaths and so much pain.
But we don’t. We judge and marginalise and disenfranchise – and then would why events like this tragedy and the hundreds since keep happening.
If we as a society do not change how we view brain health then we are doomed to continue surviving this kind of event
and surely that in untenable.
An amazing five-start book that left me reeling and inspired

The End of Everything

by Megan Abbott
I read this book for Book 28. A book with song lyrics in the title. The song is Jill Andrews – The end of Everything
And, as an aside, the song is weirdly relevant after you have read the book

But back to the book – I really did like this book. I don’t think I have read Abbott before but I am going straight back to the library to find another.

In this book Lizzie and Evie are 13 year old neighbours and best friends. They share everything, playing and giggling together, and have done so for years.
The book is shot through with wisps of sexual tension, much like the lives of 13-year olds.

And then Evie disappears, apparently stolen.

The rest of the book is told from Lizzie’s point of view. Abbott perfectly catches the murky area 13-year olds live in, between childhood and adulthood. They have scabby knees and periods – childhood and adulthood bumping up against each other, sometimes deliciously and sometimes confusedly.

The dark twists of this fabulous story slowly unfurl, showing the reader all sorts of depths of family and friendship. Abbott manages to write such a wonderfully disturbing story with such a lightness of phrase it becomes doubly twisted. The narrative seems to leap out from between the sunshine like a monster from a field of flowers.

This is a most accomplished book and Abbott is a wonderful new find for me.

We Need New Names

by NoViolet Bulawayo

This is another book for category 14. A book by an author of a different ethnicity than you. It could also be read for Book 22. A book with alliteration in the title, and Book 49. A book about a problem facing society today.

My point, really, is that it is a book that should be read.

The first part of this book tells the story of Darling, a young girl in Zimbabwe. She, her family and her friends are all living  in shacks after their homes, and entire suburb, had been bulldozed to the ground by Mugabe’s people. Her father is working away, as is her mother. No one goes to school anymore and she and her friends run riot in the shanty town they have been shunted to.

The juxtaposition of the childish delights Darling and her friends indulge in and the horrors of the world around them is moving and disturbing. They play ordinary games and do ordinary things like steal guavas and throw stones. But they also want to remove the baby from their 10-year old friend’s tummy, and steal food because they are starving.

These are not things kids should be doing.

Darling, unlike her friends, has an escape option. Her aunt lives in America and as a teenager she leaves Africa for America.

This second part of the book deals with the otherness she feels as an immigrant and a black person in Michigan. She deals with teasing and the threat of deportation, as well as the hopelessness so many undocumented immigrants must feel all over the world.

In synopsis this book sounds bleak and depressing. It is not. Darling as a child is fabulous – as are her friends. You will smile at their antics even as you realise the larger setting of their lives.

As a teenager Darling is, in many ways, typical. She may be different from a lot of the teens around her in many ways, but teens are teens.

I think Bulawayo could have made this into two books – one in Zimbabwe and the second in America. There is so much to the story she is telling it could easily have been stretched.

But as a single book this story will whack you upside the head, but make you laugh while it does it.

 

Get it, read it, and be aware of the actual lives so many people live – right now!

My Friend Dahmer

by Derf Backderf
I read this graphic novel for Book 6. A novel based on a real person. It tells the story of Dahmer as a school boy.

I loved Backderf’s drawings – he manages to portray the bleakness of Dahmer’s life running parallel to his perfectly normal 70s teen years.

I felt a lot of compassion for the boy Dahmer, and this surprised me. He was clearly not okay and not one single adult intervened. Who knows how that action could have changed the lives of so many people.

This book is in black and white but the drawings are so nuanced I am sure I remember them in colour. I thoroughly enjoyed examining them and seeing all the back ground detail. Some stitched together so well it felt movie-like for a moment while others were stand alone moments of import which had to be absorbed slowly.

Of course this book has now piqued my interest and I have to know more about Dahmer beyond what I remember in the press.
Backderf managed to humanise this man without excusing him. And that’s quite an achievement

The Boy in the Snow

by M.J. McGrath

This is the book I read for Book 19. A book about or involving a sport. The sport is a long distance skiing race taking place in Alaska.

This is a murder mystery and is a follow up to White Heat. I didn’t realise this when I read it as it is a stand-alone book. The crime solver is Edie Kiglatuk, a wonderfully strong and stroppy woman who puts up with no nonsense and is a fabulous female role model.

This book has lots of plots and story lines weaving together, kind of like real life does.

On her way to support her ex-husband in the race across Alaska, Kiglatuk finds the body of a child. To complicate matters she finds the body on land belonging to a religious groups, bordering on cultish in their separation form the rest of the world. The Old Believers are an exiled Russian Orthodox group with all sorts of secrets.

Add to the mix the fact that Kiglatuk as an Inuit outsider and it is election time in Alaska and she keeps stepping on political toes, all while tryign to make sure her ex-husband is safe as he and his dogs sleigh across Alaska is some pretty awful weather, and you get an interested, multi-layered thriller.

I really liked Kiglatuk and I loved how she is treated by those who understand who and what she is. This is no damsel in distressed – this woman will slice, dice and destroy you if needs be. She believes in finding the truth and won’t be frightened away.

I was gripped by the book and loved the, to me, very other descriptions of Alaska, the cold and the scenery. I also really liked the references to the Inuit way of life we see every now and then when the characters are simply doing their lives.

I will definitely read White Heat and any other books by McGrath. This felt like a perfect mix of gripping, easy to read, fast moving and detail including tale.

Strongly recommended if you like your crime a little dark and your protagonists fierce. Alaskan noir – who knew that was a thing 🙂

by Amanda Palmer
 
This is my book 17. A book you borrowed or that was given to you as a gift .My best friend lent me this book a while ago and for some reason I resisted reading it for ages.
What a silly person I was.
This book is amazing.
 
It is mostly memoir actually – not what I expected at all.
 
Palmer tells her story as a way to show the readers that it is okay to ask for help. And when offered help, it is okay to actually take it.
The most valuable lesson, I think, is that when asking you have to be okay with the answer being no. The possibility of being denied is half of the options and to ask with real integrity requires that a negative answer be as acceptable as a positive one.
That kind of thinking changes, for me, the process of deciding to ask for anything.
 
Palmer also differentiates very clearly between asking and begging. Asking, for her, includes an exchange. Art for money is her primary exchange and after her kickstarter phenomena she was accused of begging and taking advantage. In this book she makes it clear that firstly, people only gave what they wanted and, secondly, they got exactly what they were promised for what she gave.
 
She also talks about the other side of asking – accepting. She is great at asking for help and then taking what she is offered, but when an offer comes without the preceding asking, she crumbles. A lot of this book is spent with her agonising over taking a bit of bridging financial help offered to her by her (wealthy) husband. She clearly articulates that she understands she should be able to take it seeing as she asks strangers, but that it is so much harder for her to accept help from him. This juxtaposition is interesting and familiar.
 
Palmer is so human, so much all of us in many ways, this book is hugely accessible to everyone.
 
Palmer has also got right up the nose of so many establishment types because she won’t play by their rules. She offers her art freely online, asking people to share and love it – and pay her what they can and/or think it fair. This sends the capitalist business-types into fits of rage – partly, I think because it works.
 
I think Palmer is a revolutionary in her thinking. I don’t even think you have to like her music to like what she is saying in this book, and in her life. To be honest, I find a lot of her music a bit loud and screamy for me, but I love the lyrics and read them like poetry.
 
This book will make you think if you are willing to open your mind to a different way of being. A more connected way that, I believe, must be the way of the future.
 
As Palmer says – if someone offers you a flower- take the flower! And if you need a flower, ask for one.

 

by Diane Pomerantz

This is my book for Book 16. A book about mental health.

This is a most interesting memoir written by someone married to a man with some serious mental health and psychological issues. Through Diane’s description of her life with Charles, it is possible to see the awful effect untreated mental health issues have on everyone concerned.

What started out as a perfectly ordinary marriage turns into a cyclone of abuse. Through Pomerantz’s descriptions of life, Charles’ actions and her reactions, it is possible to actually see how his issues slowly change her mental health too. That abused people do not ‘just leave’ is something those never in abusive relationships don’t understand. In this memoir it is possible to see how Pomerantz is slowly rendered incapable of leaving. Not only is she financially beholden, she has been gaslit so often she doesn’t trust her own interpretation of events. She even has undiagnosed seizures for a while because she is not sure whether she lost time or maybe, as he says, she was driving too fast!

Charles is clearly not a very nice man but you have to wonder how much of that is because he is just a jerk, and how much of it is because of undiagnosed depression and/or a narcissistic personality. Not that this excuses how horrible he is to his wife and children, but even Pomerantz realises that he is not having much fun either.

This is a well-written recollection of an awful marriage. Pomerantz lived through some of the worst things we can survive, and all with a husband who gave zero support. The loneliness that comes from that is palpable in this book. I just wanted to cry with and for her as she sat alone, making excuses for why her husband was not holding her hand through her cancer treatment. Her brittle smiles to her children when he once again didn’t do what he had promised to do, when they were once again confused and hurt that daddy didn’t love them anymore, brought tears to my eyes.

Mental health is such a taboo subject still that people with less attractive disorders or issues, like narcissism or violent mood swings, struggle to even acknowledge their need for help, and then access it. The result is so many damaged people, some the innocent children of those struggling. Mental health stories range from Girl Interrupted in their severity and immediacy, to the slow destruction of families and communities through undiagnosed and untreated problems within those families and communities.

So much pain could be avoided if people were able to recognise and then treat mental health issues.

by JT Lawrence

This is the second book I have read for Book 3 – The next book in a series you started.

This is the last book written in the When Tomorrow Calls series but Lawrence has done a bit of a Stars Wars thing and written the books out of order. This book is actually the first in the series and sets a lot of the characters up for the reader.

I would not have thought it necessary because the characters seem perfectly whole and rounded to me when I read the series. But then I read The Sigma Surrogate and realised ‘what do i know!’ Suddenly it seemed both necessary and fabulous.

In this piece of the series, Keke investigates some odd goings on in the world of state surrogates, she meets important characters in future books, and Kirsten’s whole existence is questioned. Lots happens in this little book and it is impossible to put down.

I just love how Lawrence writes – her stories are as good as her writing skill. The words are easy to read and unfold into something you want to read. The combination keeps the reader going long after a sensible bed time has come and gone.

In this novella we get to meet some of the characters of the series, and also get some glimpses of the future world Lawrence has envisioned. Its an interesting world that gets more interesting in the series, when Lawrence has the time and space to expand many of her futuristic ideas.

Apparently this book will be permafree on Amazon – a rather clever move by the author to get readers interested in the whole series.

And it’ll work.

I challenge anyone to read this book and not immediately want to read the whole series. That is just not gonna happen.

Their Eyes Were Watching God

by Zora Neale Hurston

This is the first book I am counting for Book 14. A book by an author of a different ethnicity than you.

What a wonderful, beautiful, moving book this is. It is the story of Janie, a woman of mixed race living in the south during the early 20th century. Janie tells her story of life and love in such an engaging way I felt like I had actually met her.

 

Janie is a strong independent woman searching for own identity throughout her life, and three marriages. In this way she is a thoroughly modern woman despite the time and setting of her life. Janie spends a lot of energy asserting her own being into her relationships, and fending off comments and criticisms based on her looks. She is held accountable for the fact that men other than her husband find her attractive.

Despite being a book about black people, it is less about racism than it is about discrimination within the black community. Women and darker skinned people are seen as less by the rest of the community – a thing the fair skinned Janie doesn’t participate in or understand. It may be because of this that the book received a poor reception when it was first published. Many African-American writers, readers and critics felt that Hurston had skirted issues that needed facing. Other, however, felt that Their Eyes was a gripping story, true to the experiences of many ordinary people.

What is certainly is, in 2018, is a wonderfully written story with a narrative technique that makes it fun to read So much of Janie’s story is told in direct speech, with the words written as they would have been said.

This took a while for me to get into and reading aloud helped, but once I had managed to understand the accent and dialect, it made the story so much more vivid.

 

I loved everything about this book. The story, the characters, the method of telling…simply everything