Book Event

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Life in the "New Normal"

Annie is not terribly happy with her lot, but there are a few advantages to having her husband Tom sleep across the hall in their missing daughter's room. Primarily, her bedroom stays neat, clean, and feminine, as she is the only one residing there. She and Tom have high paying jobs and can afford to decorate their home as they wish, and in fact, Annie just made a down payment on a gourmet-style french stove. Her life isn't too bad.

But this uneasy peace is about to end. Their son Jake's marriage implodes, and his custom furniture business dries up. To save money, he moves back home to his parents' London flat. Tom's job as a BBC news producer is eliminated, and since he funds his mother's residence at an elite nursing home, he must move her to their house as well. Their youngest daughter who still lives at home wants to be a writer, but financial circumstances have changed and she challenges herself to find a salaried position. And there is still the question of Mia who disappeared five years ago after Tom made her choose between her family and her boyfriend.

Separate Beds by Elizabeth Buchan examines the "new normal" of this economy where nothing can be taken for granted. When the traditional support systems are removed, it forces people to seek new creatives ways of problem solving. This just might be the answer that Annie and Tom are searching for.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Room Without a View

by Emma Donoghue

(2011 Alex Award Winner)

Five-year-old Jack was born and has spent his entire short life in a single 11 x11 room. His only companion is his Ma, who was abducted 7 years ago by "Old Nick." Ma has tried to make a life for Jack under these terrible circumstances. She makes up games, teaches Jack how to read and tries to make sure he is safe, healthy and has enough to eat. Not easy tasks since "Old Nick," their only connection to the outside world other than the television, is unreliable and unfortunately getting more unstable. Ma is desperate and makes a plan that will change their lives forever.

Told entirely from the perspective of Jack, this novel is a fascinating look at a mother and child living under extraordinary circumstances. Jack is a bit precocious and it takes a little while to get used to his style of speaking -"I flat the chairs and put them beside Door against Clothes Horse."-but one gets drawn into his little world and the unique relationship between mother and son. I found myself holding my breath to find out what would happen to them. The first part of the book is the most absorbing. Although not much happens, Donoghue carefully crafts the the characters of Jack and Ma and the world in which they live. I can't say much about the second half without giving away too much, but it remains interesting. Overall this was a thought provoking novel that would make for for a good book discussion.

Getting Satisfaction Out of Life

I was a little ambivalent about reading Life by Keith Richards. Whenever I see this chap interviewed on television, he mumbles and is downright unintelligible. With this in mind, I wondered if his writing style would fare any better. After reading the first couple of pages, I breathed a sigh of relief. Mr. Richards' (aka Keef aka The Human Riff) prose was a revelation. He came across as warm, witty, and very personable. It was like spending time with an old friend.

There were actually quite a few revelations in this autobiography. Let's face it, Mr. Richards' singing voice has never been spectacular. So I was quite surprised to learn that he had been in his school choir and was such an exceptional singer that he performed at Westminster Abbey in front of Queen Elizabeth II. Unfortunately, once puberty arrived, his beautiful soprano voice departed.

But of course, my favorite revelation is his confession that he has had a secret desire to become a librarian! Who would have ever believed it? Imagine if he relinquished the crazy, hedonistic life of a rock star to become a quiet, reserved librarian? My mind spins with the possibility.

My favorite parts of the book were the stories about the early days of the Rolling Stones and the hard work and sacrifices that were made to make the group a success. It was no piece of cake as there was little pay for long hours, cold flats, and near starvation. But the Stones were serious about their music and Richards was a vital part of making them one of the greatest rock groups of all time.

The insight into some of the hit songs was illuminating. In fact, I would have liked to have read even more of that. In regards to his love life, he comes across as a gentleman, sort of. Of course, the book wouldn't have been complete if Richards didn't discuss his addiction to drugs. And does he ever, the stories are unbelievable. It is sad that someone who had been so focused on his music became so involved with drugs that the music became secondary. Richards started with the hard drugs around 1969 and didn't look back until around 1978. During that time period, his life became a series of strange episodes revolving around his world of drugs. It's amazing that he is still alive, he is truly the indestructible man.

I really did feel that after reading this book, I had gotten to know Keith Richards a lot better. His true personality, philosophy about life, motives, and values have been exposed to the world. This is truly one of the best memoirs ever written by a rock musician.