Book Chat

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book chat

The Woman UpstairsFirst up, The Woman Upstairs.

The protagonist, Nora, is a third-grade teacher in her 40s, remembering a period of time in her late 30s. But don’t be deceived by the fact that she’s an elementary school teacher. This is no denim-jumper-wearing, sweet lady. Well, she may appear that way. But appearances can be deceiving, as she lets us know, quite beautifully, I might add. She speaks for all of us quiet, “nice” women everywhere:

  • (We) swerve and step aside, unacknowledged and unadmired and unthanked … We’re not the madwomen in the attic — they get lots of play, one way or another. We’re the quiet woman at the end of the third-floor hallway, whose trash is always tidy, who smiles brightly in the stairwell with a cheerful greeting, and who, from behind closed doors, never makes a sound … not a soul registers that we are furious.
  • The person I am in my head is so far from the person I am in the world. Nobody would know me from my own description of myself.
  • My mother … was only 31 when I was born, but she knew what she’d have to give, and knew, too, that like Sleeping Beauty she’d waken from the baby dream to find that years had elapsed, and herself pushing forty (wow — this rings so true and I have noted it before).

I found reading the prose to be kind of like flying — I looked forward to it, because it flowed, and I could relate to so much that Nora said, and she used big words that although I’d never heard them, I could tell the meaning from the context: amanuensis. Bonhomous. Preprandial. Rictus. Otiose. Ewer. Etiolated. You get the idea.

Nora becomes fascinated with a foreign boy (Reza) in her class, and with his parents as well. The mom, Sirena, is an artist (which Nora has always wanted to be). The dad, Skandar, is intellectual and has great conversations with her. She falls in love with all three of them, not as a family¬† but individually. The air moved differently between us; time passed differently; words or gestures meant more than themselves. If you’ve never had this experience — but who has not been visited by love, laughing? — then you can’t understand. And if you have, you don’t need me to say another word.

Nora wants to “make my nothingness count,” and feels that through these people she can begin to do that. But, despite her hopes, she eventually realizes that they don’t see her much differently than anyone else apparently does: “You seem wonderfully calm in your life, as though it’s in enviable order. As though there’s nothing extra that you would require. You don’t have messes, or make them. You’re so generous to everyone — to your school, to Reza, to Sirena — even to me. You don’t look like a ravenous wolf,” (says Skandar).

“Well, I am,” I said. “I’m starving.”

I wasn’t a fan of the book’s cursing (I get that Nora is angry. Please, show it with words and not profanity). It also annoys, as always, that she is anti “Dubya” and a fan (of course) of Obama. Maybe this is just Nora, and not the author. But still, it always, always seems that fancy schmancy authors can’t conceive of a main character who would be conservative (hey, I just had an idea! Maybe we christian conservatives are the real “women upstairs”!)

Overall, really enjoyed. Great psychological look at the trauma of having someone mean more to you than you mean to them.

It was a different, smaller sort of love than I’d wanted — not so much a glacier or a fireworks display as a light shawl against an evening breeze. Recognizably love, but useless in a gale.

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Keep It PithyI like watching Bill O’Reilly on TV. My favorite part of his show is probably his opening Talking Points Memo, where he gives a practical, no-nonsense take on a current event that I usually agree with.

Keep It Pithy: Useful Observations in a Tough World¬†is short — small in size and 140 pages with plenty of white space — and consists mainly of dialogue that looks like it is pulled directly from Talking Points from his show. I don’t know; I admire O’Reilly because he does give huge amounts of money from his books to charities, and as I said early, I do largely agree with him. But to just publish a “book” of your on-air discussions seems like a bit of a cop-out.

If you’re conservative, you’ll probably enjoy this brief book — especially if you don’t see the show and thus haven’t heard his thoughts before.

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killing jesusI must be on a Bill O’Reilly kick this month, because I also read his Killing Jesus. It was a good Easter week read. Similar to his previous books, Killing Kennedy and Killing Lincoln, O’Reilly tells the story of memorable moments in history. He attempts to get away from a religious perspective and go for the historical aspects of the events of Jesus’ life, and especially his crucifixion.

I liked this. I’m reading through the Bible this year, and since I have done that so often, I find myself many times going over the words that are so familiar, and not really paying attention. This book took me out of my “zone” and made me think about things I hadn’t before. O’Reilly considers that Judas may have tried to force Jesus’ hand when he ID’ed him to authorities — he may not have forseen that this act would lead to Jesus’ death; rather, he might have thought that the confrontation would have pushed Jesus into declaring himself King openly and therefore led to an earthly reign. I like things like this — new ways of thinking that shake us out of our 20-20 hindsight view.

The book has information on the times Jesus lived in, and the conditions. You’ll learn more about the practice of crucifixion — for instance, about Roman crucifixion death squads, called “quaternio.” They consisted of 4 men plus a centurion who oversaw the group.

Killing Jesus begins with lots of history of the time, and this went over my head at times — so many Caesars, so many Herods, and I must confess I’m not as knowledgeable about the history of that part of the world as I should be. Still, recommended.

Also YA/children’s book — Alone Yet Not Alone — come enter to win a copy, through April 30.

Check out what others have been reading this month at 5 Minutes for Books.

4 thoughts on “Book Chat

  1. Interesting. I’d wondered about Killing Jesus. I don’t watch tv at all, so I am ignorant about O’Reilly.

  2. I like the writing in the quotes you shared from the first book, but I don’t know if I’d like the story. It would be nice to see a conservative as the hero of a good story!

    I don’t think I have ever read Riley, either. Thanks for telling us about his books!

  3. Not sure I would read any of these three, but thanks for the reviews of them. Why don’t YOU author a book that features a conservative protagonist? I think that’s a good idea!

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