Monthly Archives: August 2014

A plate of biscuits and gravy: Digging into “Detroit: An American Autopsy” by Charlie LeDuff

A co-worker of mine was reading this book and the cover caught my interest. (Which is also why this post doesn’t have a picture of the book because I stupidly returned it to my co-worker without taking a picture.) I am not normally a big non-fiction reader, but this is the second non-fiction book that has kept me captivated in its pages this month. I am aware of the Detroit reputation and the effect of the crumbling American auto industry. Charlie LeDuff grew up in Detroit but moved away to experience a life outside of factories. He returned a few years later to bring up his family in the place he considered home and use his reporting job to document what was happening in his city.

This book is a gritty, unflinching and personal look at Detroit: its people, its politicans, its heros, its gangsters, its economy, and its history. LeDuff writes in gripping detail about the stories he encounters in Detroit as he jumps into the reporter’s lifestyle in his hometown. I was shocked at how Detroit appears more like it belongs in a third world country than a major city in the United States; the landscape full of abandoned houses, crumbling warehouses, rampant crime, insufficient public services and rising unemployment. The kind of place where you have to be careful even going to get a tank of gas in some parts of the city because you could be beaten and robbed.

And yet even in this seeming hellhole of decay and corruption, LeDuff brings humanity to life. His emotional attachment to Detroit and his passion for the people shine throughout his storytelling. He immerses himself in the people and the stories.

“Detroit” is not simply a reporter’s account or a collection of stories, it is also a memoir of LeDuff’s own family history in Detroit and his own experiences with race, loss, and factory employment. This invasion of the personal makes these stories even more powerful and enabled me to connect more to the people. I also appreciated how LeDuff gave some foundational information like how Detroit was founded, the place of the auto industry in Detroit, and the political figures in Detroit’s history.

If you are looking for some true stories of American life with great writing and can handle some foul language and gritty narratives, then give this book a read.

4.5/5 bacon strips

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Monday Mimosa?: “Drink: The Intimate Relationship between Women and Alcohol” by Ann Dowsett Johnston

photo (7)I heard Ann Dowsett Johnston interviewed about this book on “The Sunday Edition” on CBC radio. Her passion raised my interest in the topic, so I didn’t hesitate to purchase the book full price from Fanfare Books in Stratford when I saw it on their shelves this past July. The money was fully worth it. If you are a woman or you know a woman (so basically everyone), you must read this book.

This book is a combination of memoir, documentary, health and wellness, and women’s studies. Johnston reveals her own and her mother’s battle with alcohol, and interviews women who identify as recovering alcoholics. She documents their stories and the issues that led them to their relationship with alcohol. Johnston also researches the physical effects of alcohol on women, the increase of alcohol marketing to women, social pressure and acceptance of increased female drinking, the invasive culture of university partying, and the link between mental illness and alcohol. This book is the perfect combination of personal and factual to make it easy for people to read, to relate, and to learn.

Although I am not an alcoholic and I have been lucky enough to not have alcoholism in my immediate family, I connected very intimately to this book for a few reasons. One, I recognize how easy it could be to become an alcoholic. Alcohol has that buzzing happiness effect that is easy to seek after a hard day at work. It has become so acceptable to have a glass of wine while making dinner, a glass of wine with dinner, and then a glass of wine to unwind after the dishes are done. That’s three glasses of wine! Think how prevalent that alcohol mindset has become in our society. Think how often women are featured drinking alcohol on a regular basis on TV shows (The New Adventures of Old Christine, Bones, The Good Wife).

Which brings me to my next connection point….how alcohol consumption is linked to successful women. Women have advanced in the economic world; they are equal with men; they have it all…the job, the house, the family, the body. But to be respected in some workplaces, women must be able to match the men drink-for-drink even though women’s bodies metabolize alcohol differently. And there is this portrayal that since women work so hard, they are entitled to put up their feet with a bottle of “MommyJuice” or go for a “Girls Night Out” (both wine brands). Both of these images link the successful woman with alcohol. As someone who is trying to be a successful woman in her field, my eyes were opened to how easily I have been seduced by these images and how they are not beneficial additions to my daily life.

And lastly, I connected to Johnston’s battle of not giving into the demons in your life but seeking health and happiness (even when it means saying “no” to what that inner voice is saying). I have an anxiety disorder and I have struggled with depression. Some days, the voice says “don’t get out of bed there’s nothing out there worth getting up for,” “watch another episode of TV and you’ll feel better,” “you’re worthless,” “have another glass of wine,” or “eat the whole pint of ice cream.” Instead, I get out of bed; I turn off the TV and feed my mind with books I enjoy or feed my endorphins with a run or my spirit with prayer time; I remind myself that I have value and I am loved; I make a cup of tea; and I eat some frozen blueberries. I relate to Johnston’s vision of fighting the bad desires and encouraging the healthy ones. And I think that is the huge thing that women have to learn from this book. It’s not bad to have a glass of wine or a drink with your girlfriends once and awhile or a mimosa on vacation. I personally enjoy all those things. But we need look at the voices around us and determine what is really the best for us. We need to have our eyes open to the pressures, we need to encourage women to support each other,  we need to stand up and say we can be successful women without a cocktail in our hand, and we need to be aware of the dangers of alcohol.

5/5 bacon strips

Who spilled the maple syrup?: Reading the mystery novel “A Trick of the Light” by Louise Penny

photo (5)I am not a big mystery book reader. I think the last mystery story I read was Sherlock Holmes’ “Hounds of Baskerville.” However, I love to support Canadian literature and I devour detective TV shows, so I thought it was about time I gave Louise Penny a try. I have only heard rave reviews about the Canadian mystery author, Louise Penny; and, for only $4 from The Book Vault in Stratford I could sample her writing with “A Trick of the Light.”

This is book number seven featuring Chief Inspector Gamache. He is investigating the murder of a woman found in Clara Morrow’s garden the night after the critically acclaimed opening of Clara’s solo art show. Who is this dead woman? How did she get here? Who murdered her? These are the questions that concern Gamache. Penny keeps readers on their toes with these questions; but, the murder is often a backdrop to display the deeper issues at play with Clara Morrows and her husband, Peter Murrows, as well as with Gamache and his sidekick Inspector, Jean Guy Beauvoir.

I did like how Gamache and the murder was not the only focus of the book because I felt that it added more depth to the story. It also reminded me more of a drama than a mystery so it didn’t feel quite so singularly focussed. However, this also had the negative effect of causing me to not care so much about the who and the why of the murderer. There were so many other stories competing for my attention and I felt like nothing much happened with the investigation to keep my interest piqued. The murder investigation seemed to drag on. And then suddenly, the murder investigation took narrative precedence at the dramatic unveiling of the murderer. Everyone connected to the murder was at Clara’s house for a dinner party. All were gathered in the living room as Gamache went over his investigation’s findings. As the raging thunderstorm caused the lights to flicker out, Gamache revealed the murderer and the murderer confessed his motives. This scene was too dramatic for my tastes, although it did seem that the cliche scenery fit the detective genre motifs. 

All in all, not a bad book but I was reminded that detective novels are not my cup of tea.

3.5/5 bacon strips

A quiet Sunday morning breakfast: “Introverts in the Church” by Adam S. McHugh

So I don’t think I have stated on my blog before, but I am a Christian. My goal is not to push my beliefs onto others but some of the books I read (and therefore, review) are centered around spiritual instruction. And so here is a review of an amazing non-fiction religious book I finished recently.

introvertinchurcheditI was feeling the people drain and began searching for a book that could help me foster my introverted spirit while still being involved in the community that I am passionate about. My pastor suggested “Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture” by Adam S. McHugh. This book was excellent. I would recommend this to any Christians struggling with the large amount of social interaction that church requests of us (Sunday morning service, bible study/home church, volunteering, elder meetings, spending time with the friends created through these events). This book celebrates the traits that introverts bring which are often overlooked in modern churches, and encourages introverts to use their gifts to feel a belonging in community. McHugh instructs introverts to take the time they need alone and delight in how they can connect with God and hear Him in the silence they seek. But he also emphasizes that those times of solitude should be used to recharge so that introverts can go forth and interact with community again. McHugh accurately shows the value in alone time and the necessity in engaging with other people. I felt my introversion celebrated for the first time and I was persauded to continue to invest in my church community. Even though it makes me feel exhausted most days, the effort of being with people is well worth the experience of sharing life and thoughts with each other.

I felt inspired by this book to encourage other introverts within my home church, and I even challenged my husband to try and change the way we lead to create an environment where introverts and extroverts can contribute and share their strengths with each other. I encourage all church leaders to read this book. It teaches leaders how to lead effectively even as an introvert (including recognizing your own limitations and working with them) and how to create a church environment that welcomes both introverts and extroverts. This book was definitely a good read.

5/5 bacon strips

I want noodles for breakfast: An exploration of culture and desire in Dionne Brand’s “What We All Long For”

bookDionne Brand is brilliant with words. She is the only poet I enjoyed during my English literature BA; and since then, I am drawn to anything that she has authored or written the foreword to. “What We All Long For” is my most recent purchase at a used bookstore in Toronto. Tuyen, Carla, Jackie, and Oku are the protagonists, and the struggle with their parents and the search their own identity is what binds these four friends together. This book is an ode to the new generation of Canadians, the children of immigrants and Atlantic coast migrants, especially prevalent in Toronto. Brand delves into the balancing act each protagonist navigates between the Canadian culture around them and the foreign culture experienced at home. She dissects the strange relationship these adults have with their parents feeling the need to protect them in a world where they still struggle with Canadian language and rituals, while doing all they can to separate themselves from their parents and find their own independent way in Toronto.

Brand narrates this struggle with sentences that left me breathless with their beauty. “They all, Tuyen, Carla, Oku, and Jackie, felt as if they inhabited two countries—their parents’ and their own…Each left home in the morning as if making a long journey, untangling themselves from the seaweed of other shores wrapped around their parents. Breaking their doorways, they left the sleepwalk of their mothers and fathers and ran across the unobserved borders of the city, sliding across ice to arrive at their own birthplace—the city.” (p.20) I love words!

Longing is another theme woven throughout the book. Tuyen begins a project where she asks strangers “What do you long for?” and writes their answers on a large piece of cloth for an art installation. Tuyen has grown up in a house of longing and so her life is filled with a desire for something more. Her parents’ consuming longing is for the young son they lost in the chaos of leaving Vietnam. Brand centres short chapters on this lost son’s journey in Vietnam, which is unique from the other characters in its absent of longing. What prevails is his fight to survive and grab onto whatever chance is offered to him.

The only thing I did not like about this book was the crudeness of some of the language and a particular sexual encounter was a little too graphic for me. However, the language used did fit the world these characters lived in so I understand why Brand felt it useful to keep the terminology real.

Another excellent book by Brand and I am excited to read her new book “Love Enough” coming out this fall!

4.5/5 bacon strips