Saturday, November 26, 2011

Book Reviews

I have been reading, but I just haven't gotten too many of my reviews posted here.  I do write about all the books I've read over on Goodreads, so if you're really interested you can check out my thoughts by clicking on the links over to the left.  Between lack of time and my intermittent internet service, I run out of time.

Here are a couple of my most recent comments:

The DovekeepersThe Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I couldn't put this book down!  Alice Hoffman has imagined the lives of four women who found themselves living at Masada in 70-73 C.E.  The novel is broken into 4 parts, each part of the story told from one of the women's perspectives.  The tragedy and triumph of Masada is brought to life through the lives of these women.  Hoffman's writing is beautiful. Her descriptions of sight, sound, and sense bring the reader to the place and time.  It's clear that Hoffman has thoroughly researched the time period and the culture of the first century Jewish community and its attempt to survive amid the onslaught of Rome.  I will admit that I think the book was a tad too long, but I was sorry when it ended!

View all my reviews

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was mostly a fascinating story, but it was also partly a nostalgic trip.  Although I was born the year that the TV series "Adventures of Rin-Tin-Tin" first aired, I do remember watching black and white episodes of the show as a youngster.  I did not have any idea however, that there had been a real dog named Rin Tin Tin, and I had no idea of the immensity of the Rin Tin Tin persona (if a dog can be said to have a persona!) In some ways this is a sad story:  Lee Duncan, the WWI soldier who rescued Rin Tin Tin and his sister Nanette in France, was singularly possessed by the dog, and by the idea of the dog.  When he died, he was still trying to make his dreams come true.  Later, Bert Leonard, Lee's heir apparent, died a broken man after his efforts to revive the legend failed.  Yet there is a lot of inspiration in this story.  Two intelligent men seized opportunity and ran with it as long as they could.

I learned quite a bit from this book too.  This story is in part the story of the transformation of animals, and dogs in particular, from working animals to family members.  At the start of the 20th century, dogs rarely lived inside the home.  They were relegated to the shed or the back yard or to a kennel.  They were not considered pets; rather dogs had a job to do - herd animals, protect property, not be a companion or playmate.  After WW1 and during the next decade or so, the dog/human relationship changed.  As Rin Tin Tin and other animal stars hit it big in Hollywood, the public began to see dogs as companions.  By the middle of the century, dogs and other animals had moved into the house, and had become family members.  Another fascinating set of facts was the way that the US military built its canine corps.  During WW1 other countries, Germany especially, had been using dogs on the battlefield.  The US had none, and eventually managed to cobble together a program for training dogs for military purposes.  After the war, the program was disbanded, and when WWII started there still was no established military canine program.  So the US Army solicited the public for dogs.  It was the height of patriotism to donate your family pet to the military training program.  The dogs were sent to training camps and those that made the grade were sent overseas to serve as bomb sniffers, rat catchers, messengers, and suicide bombers.  I also enjoyed the accompanying historical background of the movie and early TV industries, and it was fun to remember the various TV shows mentioned - the Lassie TV series (Jeff AND Timmy), Circus Boy, etc.

It was clear from the book that Susan Orlean was extremely invested in the Rin Tin Tin story. Her investigations were thorough, and she was clear about ambiguities and contradictions in the records.  All in all, this was a good read!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011

Checking In, and a Tribute

The last 2 weeks have been overwhelming - both in the number of things I've had to get accomplished, and in emotion.  I had report cards, 3 parent meetings, and two doctor appointments above and beyond all the usual business.  One of the dr appointments was just a routine visit, but the second was a visit to a podiatrist to have a very painful ingrown toenail taken care of.  It had been bothering me for several months -- silly me didn't know what it was until I saw my primary care physician for my annual physical.  Then I had to wait for an appointment.  The podiatrist claimed it was one of the worst cases he'd seen!  All I know is that by the time I got to see him, I couldn't wear most of my shoes, and I had trouble walking.  It was not a pleasant procedure, but now it's over.  My toe is still tender and sore, but it's a healing pain, and nothing compared to the agony I was feeling.

The really tough part of the last 2 weeks is that one of the dearest people in the world to me passed away.  My aunt was 92, and she had been failing for quite a while so we knew it was coming.  It doesn't make it any easier thought.  She was more than an aunt to me.  As my mom's older sister she substituted in my mind for my grandmother.  (The only grandparent I knew died when I was almost 6.)  Growing up we lived in the same town, and my mom and her sister spent part of everyday together.  I was in and out of my aunt's house daily, and when I was in college I lived with her.  By that time we'd moved several states away but I'd returned to CT for college and became an in-state student.  My cousins were more my big sister and brother than cousins.  My aunt was also the matriarch of our family, and she was stickler for etiquette, courtesy, and integrity.  As the family historian and memorykeeper, she will be missed.  One of my fondest memories was a daytrip my aunt and I took one weekend when I was in college.  We went to Stonington, CT from where part of our family hails.  She showed me the house that had belonged to my grandfather, and where our Revolutionary War ancestor had lived.  We visited the family cemetery there too.  She took 16mm movies of me in front of the family mausoleum and our ancestors' gravesites. We finished the afternoon with a very elegant meal at a harborside French restaurant, dining on Coquilles St. Jac and white wine.  It was a lovely day.

As the family historian and genealogist she made sure we were aware of our family's past.  (hence the above-mentioned trip). She was a diehard DAR lady, serving in local and state offices, and every year she reminded her nieces that it was time to get our DAR dues in.  (We were enrolled in CAR as babies, and when we were old enough, she made sure we stayed put as DAR members.  I have to admit that as a child I did go to CAR meetings and had a ball, but I've only attended 2 meetings as an adult!  I will keep my membership current though as a tribute to her.)

She was also a business woman.  Her husband had a printing business. My aunt was the "front office", handling all the customer service, inventory,  and bookkeeping.  I spent several summers working in the office with her and also filling in for her when one summer, she and my uncle, took their first vacation in 25 years.  In between she taught Sunday school, provided leadership in the historical society, the hospital auxiliary, DAR, and  she raised her own 2 children, as well as helped raise assorted nephews and nieces!  What a woman!