Book Chat

In the Garden of Beasts LarsonHaving read, and really loved, “The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson, I have been anxious to read his latest book, “In the Garden of Beasts.” Larson is great at bringing historical events to life. In “White City,” he did this for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. In “Beasts,” we travel to 1933 Germany and follow the life of US Ambassador to Germany William Dodd and his family (well, ostensibly his family, but actually we only follow Dodd and his young adult daughter, Martha).

The book is long and full of characters, many of whom I had a hard time remembering (oh, yeah, I guess I remember him from about 30 pages back …), but some points stood out:

  • Hitler and his cronies were already up to their tricks in 1933. I guess I hadn’t thought he was so powerful until late in the ’30s.
  • It seems that many of the Germans were legitimately anti-Hitler and his Nazi fantasies, but since he had the entire government and police systems fearing him, nobody really spoke up. Or, the few that did were killed. It seems amazing now that the “good people” didn’t band together to stop him. Then again, I look at a lot of things in our country/world today and wonder the same thing. I guess I just think, “What can I do? I’m just one person.” Apparently, things were similar back then.
  • Dodd’s daughter Martha was amazing, and not in a good sense. She went to Germany in her early 20s as a married woman in the process of getting divorced, and within just a few weeks was dating Nazi officials, Russian spies, and apparently every other man who dropped by the family home. She must have had some real magnetism to men, that’s for sure.

I really enjoyed this book for taking me back to a place that no longer exists — Berlin in 1933. Actually, it made me feel great that it doesn’t exist anymore, but I did keep thinking of current-day parallels. Erik Larson will be speaking in my town next month, and I can’t wait to go hear him. Recommended.

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Illusion PerettiI had high hopes for “Illusion.” Maybe 20 years back, I’d enjoyed “This Present Darkness,” as well as other Peretti books. I think I’ve read that this is his first book in seven years.

“Illusion” is the tale of Mandy Whitacre. She is 19, and one day while at the fair with two friends, she inexplicably just disappears into the future — 40 years into the future. She only slowly figures out about what happened to her in the intervening 40 years. There’s a lot involved: an evil big-government time machine at the root of this mess, Mandy’s husband (who she had not even met at the time of her disappearance), and a whole mess of characters who are either time-traveling courtesy of the evil machine or working to keep the whole scheme secret.

Unfortunately, “Illusion” didn’t cut it for me. I found it way, way too long at almost 500 pages, and it just didn’t hold my interest the way Peretti’s books have in the past. If you enjoy Peretti, you may want to give it a try, as most reviewers seem to have enjoyed it more than I did.

I received a copy of “Illusion” for review.
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Tuesdays with MorrieI was torn when beginning “Tuesdays with Morrie.” It’s been on my radar for years as a popular book, but I’d held out because a blogger I enjoy absolutely hated it. She felt Albom was a king of trite sentimentality, a sell-out who makes big bucks each year for basically writing Oprah-like columns on the significance of 9/11, etc.

But then my daughter was assigned to read it for her high school English class, so here it was, in the house.

And … I’m conflicted. On the one hand, who can fail to love Morrie, the college professor slowly dying of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease)? He waxes on the importance of love, and people, and really, you just can’t dislike him.

On the other hand, I wasn’t so impressed with Albom, the author. Albom had been a student of Morrie’s 20+ years ago, and somehow got in touch with this professor who had changed his life just as the guy was dying. He visits him on Tuesdays, although by “visit” he doesn’t mean strolling down the street, but flying hundreds of miles each time. Albom makes a list of big life issues troubling him, and each week asks Morrie to expound on them with the wisdom he’s sure Morrie has, since Morrie is dying (and of course, dying people are a veritable fount of wisdom).

Things that bugged about this book:

  • I felt that Albom was taking advantage of Morrie. Albom interacted with Morrie during college, and then for about six months before the man died. Yet this book details various physical indignities about Morrie and it just felt gratuitous to me.
  • Albom’s style is … odd. The book is very short – shy of 200 page, and the pages are small with wide margins. He’ll often has Morrie repeat something, which seems to me like he’s reaching for filler. For instance:

“Love others, Mitch. That’s all that matters.”

I looked up, seeing Morrie as if for the first time.

“Love others, Mitch.”

I kept wanting to scream, I get it! Unsure why so many truisms had to be repeated. Also, Albom had an odd way of mixing quote marks in conversations. Again, my made-up example:

“Did you bring food?” asked Morrie’s wife.

Did I bring food, she asked? I always brought food.

“That’s so kind of you,” she said.

Okay. So, why did Morrie’s wife speak in quotes, but Mitch didn’t? Is Mitch just thinking rather than speaking, but if so, why did she answer him verbally?

So, more than you probably wanted to know 🙂 I will say this book was good if you want a reminder of big life lessons, or if you want a tear-jerker about a sweet man dying. But for the writing style or the narrator, I wouldn’t pick it up.

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Farm Girl GowenI got “Farm Girl” when it was offered free on Amazon a few weeks back. It’s the first book I have read on my Kindle Fire, and I really enjoyed it. It’s not really a story, but more an oral history of the author’s mom, who grew up in Nebraska during the Depression and Dust Bowl days. Basically, I think the mom shared memories and the daughter wrote them down to form this book. It was interesting to hear about life in our country during that time. There were also many photos, which added a lot to the book. Recommended.

3 thoughts on “Book Chat

  1. Of the books you reviewed, I believe the only one I would enjoy is Farm Girl. I’m going to try to get it.

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