The Hen who Dreamed She could Fly – Sun-Mi Hwang (2014)

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Wow. I’m not sure that I can really verbalize what this little book is about, but suffice to say it’s adorable, charming, sweet and poignant and almost made me cry several times. It’s been a bestseller in South Korea, and was translated earlier this year to English. My particular edition included some wonderful illustrations that *perfectly* matched the narrative in its feel and emotional timbre which definitely added to the whole reading experience.

This is a must-read if you’re looking for an emotionally-punchy poignant fable about a small chicken called Sprout with a big dream of escaping the coop and hatching an egg.

The story revolves around Sprout the chicken who chose her secret name when she watched the acacia tree across the farmyard blossom and bloom every spring. The fact that the tree grew flowers and then leaves throughout the year meant that she too could grow and become more than she was – a not-very-good egg-laying hen in a cage. But the future? The future was hers if only she could escape.

As the plot progresses, Sprout learns how to take life by the combs and then ensues a life of freedom earned in so many hard ways. Although the story sounds like a child’s tale, this is a book which faces the reality of a chicken’s life head-on: there is violence, there is fighting, but there are also love and forgiveness. And does she get her life-long dream of hatching an egg? Aaah, my friends, you’ll have to read to find that out.

Reviewer Adam Johnson describes this book as thus: “the nexus of fable, philosophy, children’s literature, and nature writing…” which is extremely close to how I would describe it.

Honestly, this was one of the quietest and yet most powerful books that I’ve read this year. It will definitely make it on to my “Best Read of 2014” list, and I think you’ll love it as well. It’s a quick read, but one that will leave you thinking about it for days afterward. I just adored Sprout.

Things on Cowboy’s Head – Part 51

Things on Cowboy's Head. No. 51: Plastic fork.

Things on Cowboy’s Head. No. 51: Plastic fork.

Background Note: Cowboy, as you know, is one of our cats. She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot. All of which helps with this ongoing project I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)

 

 

Video Nights in Kathmandu – Pico Iyer (1988)

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Pico Iyer is a veteran travel writer, and this was an earlier publication which details some of his thoughts and experiences as he traveled through parts of Asia in the 1980’s. Of course, a lot has changed since then, but overall I really enjoyed this read to places of the world where it’s unlikely that I’ll visit. (Although after Iyer’s wonderful and gushing description of Tibet, I’d love to go there if I didn’t have to drink yak milk… :-) )

This book is not a straight-forward chronological narrative set-up; Iyer’s chapters jump around from place to place, going from Nepal to China to Hong-Kong to Bali. However, this changing around does nothing to detract from the reader’s experience as Iyer is a thorough narrator and each chapter is long enough to describe what he feels about his travels.

This was a good solid read – remarkably solid, in fact, as there are pages where the writing is so dense that it’s like fighting through a rain forest with a blunt machete. However, these dense passages are spread out and once I had accepted that this book was going to take some tenacity and a blindness to the clock and calendar, it was a good experience.

It’s opinionated travel writing, for certain, but not in an “in-your-face” way so I, as the reader, didn’t feel that I was being forced to view countries through Iyer’s own particular lens. He provided enough balance around his opinions that you could see the rest of the picture and this I really enjoyed. I liked this read, slow as molasses as it was, and would happily pick up another of Iyer’s works.

New Fall 2014 TBR Selection

TBR Pile: Fall 2014 edition.

TBR Pile: Fall 2014 edition.

The weather has been unseasonably cool here in the Texas Panhandle, which has been a fantastic treat for us. A couple of weeks ago, we had a record high of 104 and then a few days, later – zoooom down went the temperatures and rain and cool was here! It’s been 50’s for the past few days (as a low) and 60/70s as the high. Wow. Break out the socks!!

And – we even had to put the heating on in the house and wear sweaters at home a few times. Big change from the last few months. I’m crossing my fingers that this cool phase hangs out for a few more days! It’s been cool in my office on campus – so cool, in fact, that I have to wear gloves to warm my little digits so I can work, but not complaining. We had three weeks of internal office temps of more than 85 degrees when the AC wasn’t functioning so I’m ok with cold temps!

Speaking of autumn approaching, here is my new TBR shelf selection for the cooler months ahead…

(L-R)

  • Creating a Beautiful Home – Alexandra Stoddard (NF)
  • For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts’ Advice to Women – Barbara Ehrenreich/Deirdre English (NF – history)
  • The Mid-Life Crisis: Social Stereotypes from the Telegraph – Victoria Mather and Sue Macartney-Snape (Humor)
  • A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson (NF – travel)
  • Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives – Peter Orner (NF – current affairs)
  • My Traitor’s Heart – Rian Malan (NF – current affairs)
  • The Victorians – A. N. Wilson (NF – history)
  • The Tomb of the Inflatable Pig – John Gimlette (NF – travel)
  • Our Noise – Jeff Gomez (F)
  • The Color Purple – Alice Walker (F)
  • War Brides – NF – repeat title from previous TBR
  • England, Their England – A G. McDonald (F)
  • Troubles – J. C. Farrell (F)
  • House – Tracey Kidder (NF – history)
  • A Long Long Way – Sebastian Barry (F)
  • The Weight of Heaven – Thrity Umrigar (F)
  • Seven by Five – H. E. Bates (F)
  • No Fond Return of Love – Barbara Pym (F)
  • Absolutely Typical – Victoria Mather and Sue Macartney-Snape (F – humor)

Progress of previous Summer 2014 TBR was really good (allowing for the caveat that I stray from the list and yet still read TBRs from the shelves…) – 15 titles off the TBR shelves which is great progress, plus some super-good reads! Yearly total: 34 TBRs completed (including 2 DNFs) out of 67 books total. :-)

Another fall, another turned page: there was something of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last year’s mistakes and failures had been wiped clean by summer. ~Wallace Stegner.

Things on Cowboy’s Head – Part 50

Things on Cowboy's Head. No. 50: Handcarved wooden top toy.

Things on Cowboy’s Head. No. 50: Handcarved wooden top toy. (Top teethmarks are courtesy of Avi Dog who couldn’t resist the temptation of fresh wood to chew on.)

Background Note: Cowboy, as you know, is one of our cats. She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot. All of which helps with this ongoing project I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)

 

Update on the Scary Big Book Project…

Scary_big_booksEarlier in April last year, I had considered the idea to collect all my Scary Big Books in my TBR, and see if I could make a dent in them. (Books are defined as “Scary Big Books” [SBB] if they have intimidatingly large page numbers. It’s not the topic that’s scary, but the sheer number of pages. Books are usually more than 1.5 inches in width, if that gives you an idea.)

So, I perused the bookshelf and came up with a selection on which to focus. Now, more than one year later, I decided to take a stand. NO MORE SBB! I am interested in what they have to say, but the number of pages!! My god, the number of pages … Eeek.

And I decided “No more!” If I hadn’t read (or even looked at) them in the past 14 months, I probably wouldn’t in the future so off with their heads and out of the door. I’ve listed them to sell on-line, and already sold a few (although I wouldn’t recommend this as a lucrative income-stream if I were you.) The rest, if they don’t sell after a few more weeks, will be going to the FoL library sale.

Note to self: Find out number of pages in expensive hardback books before you buy them so there is no heart-dropping surprise when you open the mail package and see how thick the book is.

Stats for the SBB Project:

Read:     1

DNF:      1

Out of the door total:      9

Total shelf space freed up for future FoL library sale: 13.5 inches

Total pages eliminated from my guilty conscience: 4,050

Relief: Incalculable. :-)

Indian Horse – Richard Wagamese (2012)

book316Not certain where I came across this title, but this was one of the best reads this year so far. Richard Wagamese has written “Indian Horse”, a novel that revolves around a First Nations person with a drinking problem who is trying to dry out at an inpatient facility. Part of his ongoing therapy asks him to track back down his past years to try to understand why he’s chosen the paths that he has throughout his life. “You can’t change the present if you don’t understand the past” idea…

This was one of the titles chosen as part of the Canada Reads program featured in 2013, so I knew that it had a good chance of being a good read even if I’d never heard of the title or the author. And it was, my friends. It was.

Saul Indian Horse, the protagonist, has lived a tough life. His childhood was spent in the wild bush with his extended family of the Ojibway tribe from the Wabaseemong First Nation in the northern end of Ontario. (It’s also the same tribe as the author so it makes it pretty autobiographical, I would think, at least historically speaking.) As Saul gets older, his family goes through some horrible situations, and the one constant in his unstable life is his love and talent for ice hockey.

It is the comradery of the team and also his uncanny ability to “see” the game (as the elders would see into the mystical world of old) that keeps Saul on track from self-destruction for some time, but eventually, the outside world overcomes his inside strength and things change from then on.

Richard-WagameseThis was far outside my normal reading, but I loved it. (It’s good to push the boundaries every now and then.) Wagamese is a great author who obviously knew what he was writing about, from the collective pain as a disenfranchised and abused child isolated from his family to the thrill of the game on the ice hockey rink. (And here I was surprised at just how exciting he made ice hockey games to read about. He described learning and playing the game in such great detail that even I, who have never played ice hockey, was involved with the outcome of each game his team played.)

The narrative builds up as the story progresses, and once it seems to reach its apex, I (as the reader) thought that was how life was going to stay for Saul. But then there is a huge twist at the end which brings things together and it took my breath away as, by that time, I’d fallen in love with troubled Saul. Interestedly, the story starts off with Saul being kept (willingly) in a residential treatment facility for his addiction, but that later more informal incarceration was a direct result of an earlier forcible incarceration of a kind during his childhood when he went to the school of hell. The earlier one put him in a cage – does the later prison cage (though of his own choices) set him free?

When the Indian Act of 1876 passed in Canada, it became compulsory for First Nation kids to attend a day, industrial or residential school as part of a large plan to assimilate Native Canadians into European-Canadian society (because we all know now that that’s the right thing to do. Sigh.) In fact, one of the key goals of this program was stated as “killing the Indian in the child” which affected more than 150,000 First Nation children and their families for generations.

ice_hockeyWith Canada being so large and spread out, this ruling (the Indian Act of 1876) meant that some young children were forced to attend boarding (or residential) schools run by mostly Catholic and Anglican churches where there was limited learning and excessive hard labor for the student body. The schools were funded in small part by the Canadian government, but not enough to meet all their financial needs which meant that the school children were frequently used in hard and manual labor, the products of which were income-producing for the schools. It was all a big mess (which might qualify for “Understatement 0f the Year”…)

Numerous records attest that, whilst in these residential schools, the students were forcibly removed from their families, their culture and their languages, some children were sterilized and purposely malnourished, and there were significant amounts of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of both other students and staff. There were also high mortality rates for illness (notably TB) for students with inadequate (or nonexistent) medical care from untrained staff, and numerous children went missing with their families never to hear from them again.

The schools were spread across the nation, and for tribal children far from towns or landed communities, it meant being kidnapped and forcibly removed from everything they knew to a pretty hostile environment. (Not every government school engaged in this abuse, but it was quite widespread – enough that there was a government public apology not only by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper but also the leaders of all the other parties in the Canadian House of Commons. And just nine days prior to this had been the establishment of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission to uncover the truth about this situation.)

The last residential school didn’t close until 1996. (Blimey!) They sound like a terrible idea, but par for the course in early English colonial days. (See also Australia, USA, etc.) However, kudos to Canada for developing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that provided a $1.9 billion compensation package to benefit tens of thousands of former residential school students who had been affected, both as families and through support of more and better educational opportunities for First Nation peoples.

So – a pretty serious book on serious topics, but it reads so quickly and I was so drawn into the story that it passed incredibly fast. I just loved this book on so many different levels, and you may as well.