Sunday, November 17, 2019

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Second book club book #6

This was a good story, but I don't have any overwhelming feelings toward it. I liked the book, but nothing stands out for me to attach to and rave about. 

The novel takes the reader through the marriage of Roy and Celestial. It starts off regular enough, until Roy gets accused and convicted of a crime that sends him to jail for up to 12 years. All the emotions that come with being separated from your spouse, in an impossible situation, come through not just between Roy and Celestial, but the other people close to them -- parents, best friends, and other relatives all struggle to interpret what happens to a relationship in this situation. They also aren't uncomfortable offering their opinions when things aren't going the "right" way.

I can't imagine being separated from my spouse for years at a time. It would be so hard, regardless of what forces were keeping us apart. The struggle of having to decide what trajectory to take your life on when you don't have your partner as a consultant would be so rough, and you really feel all that in this book. The whole story feels extremely real, and is enhanced by the assortment of characters who come into play. It's also convenient that nobody seems to be exactly on the same page, so you get every point of view, leading up to the idea that maybe there is no such thing as a typical, "American Marriage."

This book could have gone in a completely different direction than it did. Because the characters are African American, the story could have been told as a social commentary. For me, that piece of the story, which is very valid, took a backseat to the emotional experiences of the characters. Through feelings, we're drawn into the lives of these characters, greatly impacted by the wrong that's out in the world.

For me, the point of this book is that an actual American Marriage is whatever you make of it to find happiness. It's not a marriage certificate or having kids, but rather finding that gut-wrenching love that almost puts you in the grave beside your spouse. It can even be found in the practical movements in everyday life. It's about surviving and finding where you really fit, not about forcing yourself into an ideal image that's really more about settling. Roy and Celestial go through some very tough times together, but in the end it helps them find their true happiness, so maybe the journey is what a relationship is all about, and marriage is irrelevant.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner

After you finish rolling your eyes because the main characters are named Jo and Bethie (Hi Little Women, we get it,) get into this book. It's a great trip from the 1950's through to today as the lives of two sisters move through the world as it changes around them. 

The feminist theme is strong in this book, but it's primarily viewed through the situations the sisters experience. It feels more true-to-life than the more preachy tone that can occur. Although, by the end of the book, we're stuck with this blatant reflection on the woman's place that is definitely more in-your-face than the message is anywhere else in the book.

Those little issues aside, this is a great story of what women go through, and how real the struggle can be to find yourself among all the expectations and responsibilities flying at us. The book touches on so many central, feminine issues that aren't talked about enough -- family relationships, female relationships, abuse, the mom struggle, sexual identity, settling, self-care. These characters are very busy moving from one thing to the next or struggle with more than one issue at a time, but it's not contrived. It may be predictable, but it's natural for these characters to move through the phases of life Weiner lays out for them.

What I liked most about these sisters was the yin and yang of their stories. One stepped forward while the other got entangled and vice versa. Neither of them had it perfect, but with a sisterly connection, they made it through. As they age and bring more people into the family, you continue to see representations of the female struggle, but you also gain some insight into the fact that true female happiness is when you live your best life, make choices that bring your joy, and put yourself higher up on the priority list, even as you care for others. 

Moving through the decades in this book, underneath the female lense, was comfortable and emotional. I really liked and enjoyed it, even if I did wish the characters had different names. I highly suggest this one!

Monday, October 28, 2019

Recursion by Blake Crouch

Book club book #8

I used to read books like this all the time. My Dad and I would pass volumes of Robin Cook, Nelson DeMille, and Michael Crichton back and forth. Then I stopped. I took a break to do some rereading and delve into the classics. I had kids and reading became harder to do. I missed the genre of world-ending thrillers, where real science goes a step too far and an emotionally scarred detective jumps into the fray. I'm glad to be back.

Recursion was a great re-entry.

Helena is the scientist. Her work in memory mapping to help alzheimer patients goes awry when it opens the door to time travel. Barry is the detective, mourning the loss of his teenage daughter and his marriage. False Memory Syndrome is the disease, appearing one day, randomly. People are somehow being given a second set of memories that never happened. It makes many crazy since they're living two lives, but only within their own mind. There's no known cause or cure, until Barry and Helena team up.

Barry starts poking around and Helena realizes what she's created. Then, it's a rush to save the world in a way that won't ripple out these false memories, connected to timelines that technically never happened. Timelines that lead to mass suicide and worldly destruction. Barry and Helena try over and over until the very attempt to solve the problem becomes more of a struggle than watching the world end over and over.

This is a smart and intense read that had me carrying my Kindle around the house to read every spare minute I had. The struggle feels real. The characters are complex, flawed, and people I wanted to know. It was a painfully realistic look at how humanity could conceivably destroy itself.

It was great to feel so vested in a story that was well-written and well-thought. It has been a while for me. I highly recommend this book for a cold night's read by the fire this holiday season. It will be well worth the time.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Judgement Day: The Science of Discworld IV by Terry Pratchett

Rounding out this series of books, the fourth volume in Pratchett's set combines yet another humorous and crazy Discworld tale with real science and thought-provoking analyses of our world. This time there's even a trial, of sorts, as the ownership of Roundworld (aka our universe) comes under dispute.

More philosophical in nature than the other volumes, this is a book about thought and perception. It looks at a lot of science, but also delves into how the human ways of thinking have shaped our beliefs. From religion to how we interpret scientific facts, there's always the nagging feeling that certain questions simply don't have a "right" answer. 

Conviction is closely explored as well as the book asks if things are a certain way because we've created specific rules to defend our point. Does G-d exist because we've got a book that says so or did we write the book to support a belief that something specific made our world? It's a valid question even as I have my own convictions. I realize that most people disagree about some topic or at some level, so how do you prove what you can only theorize about? You can't. Even with science, if it's just theoretical, you can craft any equation to support an opinion and label it as fact. That is, until someone else comes along with a different formula and completely changes the game.

It's a fascinating way to approach just about anything.

While all this heavy thinking is going on, we get a good dose of silly on Discworld. Pratchett takes these serious questions about proof and thought and belief and converts them into an argument about the ownership of Roundworld. Even though the professors of Unseen University know Roundworld is their creation, because they were there when the world began, a religious group is laying claim to the universe because it proves their belief that the world is round. Discworld is actually flat, and it's a known and verified fact, but that doesn't stop this group from daring to think differently.

Does believing in something give you ownership over it? That's an interesting question, and in the end the ultimate decider for whether Roundworld returns to its spot on an academic wizard's shelf or becomes a tangible symbol of an entire religion. It's also something to think about in relation to our own universe, which we can never actually understand since we can't see the big picture. What else is really out there? Can we even predict it? The conversation could continue infinitely, unlike the decision about Roundworld. That gets an exciting conclusion, one that even involves a decent chase.

Before reading this book, make sure you hit the series from the start. The books do reference each other.