Before this century, farming was a way of life for many Americans. In the 1920s, 20% of our workforce labored on farms. Now it is less than 2%. This novel, the first of a trilogy, covers the lives of an extended agricultural family, the Langdons, from the 1920s to the 1950s.
In 1920 Walter Langdon, a young 25-year-old walks the land of his new farm. His father thought he didn’t need to start on his own yet, but Walter disagreed. He had a wife after all--the beautiful and practical, Rosanna--and now a six-month-old son, the treasured Frank. As the first grandchild in the family, he receives tons of love and praise.
The novel covers a cycle of births, deaths, marriages, and children coming of age for two generations. The pace is slow, the characterization, deep, and you feel that you are really experiencing life as it was lived on an Iowa farm. Read more about Some Luck
I started this morning reading poetry, and couldn’t have found a better book of contemporary American poems than Mark Doty’s Deep Lane. He writes about memory, love, and human connections. Masterfully, he encases most of these themes in strikingly beautiful nature poems.
How gifted Doty is describing things as ordinary as a deer in a backyard, when he writes ”a buck in velvet at the garden rim, / bronze lightly shagged, split thumbs / of antlers budding.”
He also celebrates humanity in everyday New York City: the three barbers he visited for ten years who suddenly disappeared, the one-armed man at the gym, his old friend, Dugan, who appears suddenly on 15th Street, “—why shouldn’t the dead / sport a little style?” Read more about Deep Lane
This timely novel set in South India tells the story of contemporary ivory poaching from three perspectives a documentary filmmaker, a poacher, and from an elephant named Gravedigger.
A calf who watched his mother and other members of the elephant clan die brutally, Gravedigger grows up in captivity until he breaks his chains and slips into the forest. There he seldom shows mercy for humans.
Tania James succeeds in showing each of these beings as having complex needs. Even the poachers, two brother, named Jayan and Manu, aren’t presented as evil even though Jayan is jailed for killing 56 elephants, including a mother who waited and grieved for two days after her son died.
But this book is not all doom and gloom. The author describes the setting beautifully and captures the pressures and love shared by Jayan’s family. His wife, Leela, an ex-prostitute is one of the strongest and most interesting characters. After one elephant death, she asks her husband, “Why did you kill a god?” Read more about The Tusk That Did the Damage
After reading just the first chapter of this book, I was stunned at how long the heat storage properties of carbon dioxide have been on the world’s radar. What would you guess? Twenty? Forty? Fifty years? How about 150 plus.
Back in 1863, John Tyndall, an Irish scientist measured the absorption of infrared radiation by carbon dioxide and showed that slight changes in the atmosphere’s composition can affect our planet's temperature.
Guy Callendar discovered in the 1930s that carbon dioxide levels were rising and causing an increase in temperatures. He said that there had already been a 10% increase in carbon dioxide levels. Other scientists mocked him. But even then he predicted a 2-4 C temperature raise in the 21st century.
Although she has written three novels, this is Karen Bender’s first collection of stories. Wow can the woman write.
Two of her short stories have won Pushcart Prizes and several others have been included in Best American collections, both for short stories and for mystery stories.
The pieces are irreverent, funny and sad at the same time, and rich with the absurdities and bizarreness of modern American life. For instance, “The Sea Turtle Hospital” vividly describes a lockdown at a grade school. Bender’s writing is non-judgmental but rich in detail.
The narrator in this story gets the job of locking the door and pulling down the shades (what protection would thin shades provide?), while the other teacher hustles the children into a closet. They proceed to eventually rolling the children up in a stinky rug after shots ring out. All the while anxious parents text the narrator.
One of the weirdest stories is “The Cat” where a mother adopts a kitten. Bender is a whizz at getting children down--both their conversations and behavior.
But the story is really about the mother in this story, six years out from breastfeeding, but the kitten’s mews cause a let-down reflex and her milk to return. This leads to consultations with a breast surgeon who has a pet iguana. “Cold,” the mother says. You’ll have to read it to find out what happens.
Bender seems drawn to non-politically correct topics. In “A Chick from My Dream Life” she describes two teenage sisters whose parents offer them little attention. Their father is very depressed but the girls don’t know why he spends all day on the living room couch not wanting them near.
The younger sister, Betsey, has an arm that ends in a point like “the tailed end of whipped cream.” As the older sister, Sally, takes it upon herself to hide it in tube tops or paint it in vivid colors. When their dad starts ignoring them, they wander to the beach where Betsey sneaks away to kiss boys, telling them that her name was Sally.
“Theft” describes an older woman’s vacation on a cruise ship to Alaska after a life of crime. She meets a young woman, Darlene, who has a broken heart. The two women bond. Ginger tries to toughen Darlene up, tells her what to say to get her boyfriend back, while revealing some of her own backstory and how her parents and sister abandoned her. That’s what spurned her to become a first-class swindler.
Many of the stories etch out feelings of loneliness or loss, but with a quirky, off-kilter humor that makes everything bearable. Her narrators are smart, observant, and fallible--very much like us. Bender’s writing recalls that of the wonderful short story writer Flannery O’Connor. Try Flannery'sComplete Stories.