Such lists are always arguable. What books would you put on this list? I know I have books I’d add.
My Beloved World, by Sonia Sotomayor
I’m attracted to personalities; I suppose that’s why I read memoirs occasionally, albeit most are musical talents of my generation. Justice Sotomayor isn’t a musician, but she is a personality, and a damned strong one, if my reading of this book bears truth. Her reason for writing a memoir just when her life among there Supremes has only begun? She’s a people person, out on the streets, in the schools among people of all stripes – and they’ve had questions. Questions about her rise from the Brooklyn projects to Princeton, Yale, to an Assistant DA role in New York City, to a highly placed law firm, to the federal bench, and finally to the Supreme Court. Questions about every aspect of her life, as it turns out.
And so she begins with her parents’ – and her – discovery in childhood that she was a type I diabetic, not a benign thing in those years. Too, she was caught between her Puerto Rican heritage and white and black U.S. cultures, and that includes linguistically. Still, she rose – thanks to a persevering mother and Madam Justice’s own will.
Her writing here is occasionally inspired, crisp, clean prose, although as she writes her life into legal advancement, she occasionally lapses into a passive voice. There are subtle hints among her clearly honest chronicling of a defensive personality – as one might expect of a Hispanic, a woman, and one of poor beginnings to boot – but her memoir finds ways to transcend this.
The memoir – an unusual bit of writing for one just now reaching the pinnacle of the legal profession – clearly portrays her honesty, her mental acuity, her love of family and friends. and I think these are damned fine qualities for one on the Supreme bench for life.
My rating 17 of 20 stars
The article linked below bills the iPhone 6 as the phone the people want. Certainly the larger screen is a plus, and the phone can still fit in a pocket. But will it replace other products, such as the iPad mini?
I suppose the people will tell us.
Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline
The touchstone of humanity is our linkage and interdependency with others – family, friends, work associates, and on and on. But what happens to your humanity if those people, those interdependencies are taken away from you, time after time? This is Kline’s question in Orphan Train, orchestrated in the life of an orphan, a girl named Molly. No, not an orphan, really; her mother has been alive, but the mother’s given her up. She’s a tough kid – a goth – with the paint and posture to armor her against her constant losses.
But something serendipitous happens to Molly. She’s stolen a classic book from the library, and her punishment is to clean the junk from the attic of Vivian, a well off, elderly woman. But this woman has more in common with Molly than either expected, and their bond grows beyond loss, beyond the many sorts of violation both women have experienced.
As such, the book is a romance. Not a traditional romance, but one of two people from different generations, interlinked by similar pasts, similar losses. Together, both find meaning to their lives and trust in one another.
Kline has melded these two lives by interspersing Molly’s brief years with diary-like passages that chronicle Vivian’s much earlier years as an orphan. This structure works to a point, but the author spends too much time with peripheral details that have little impact on the burgeoning relationship between the two. But then she may have had a much longer novel in mind, a novel that would have given these disparate parts adequate time. The title’s image of a train is historical, and it’s a metaphor, too. In Vivian’s younger years, she and other orphans are ridden around the U.S. on a train, seeking families to take them in. Too, it’s the metaphor of the sexual abuse, the slave labor conditions, the name changes and family swaps that all but erase their identity.
I like much about this book. Kline’s prose is often elegant, her eye, ear, and nose for scene are gifted. And it brings into modern times the story of orphanages, stories at least as old as those of Charles Dickens.
My rating: 15 of 20 stars
Shotgun Lovesongs, by Nickolas Butler
This is a charmer of a book. Butler gives us first a series of character studies – each in first person, and then ties their lives together into something of a novel. It’s an interesting construction; it’s sentimental, it’s poignant, and it’s sometimes filled with pathos. All adding spice to his characters and their interlinked lives.
There is no continuing chronological order here, the story swings from characters’ memories of significant events in each personal life to events of mutual importance. Butler’s tale(s) takes place in rural Wisconsin, mostly in a small farming town called Little Wing, these twenty- and thirty-somethings growing up together, drinking, climbing silos, watching their town all but disappear. The town is a metaphor for their lives, their mutual friendship at the edge of fragmentation, just like Little Wing’s. But the group’s members persevere against odds in their mutual relationships – as they do in perpetuating Little Wing as a place of repose, a place in which life can resurrect.
Shotgun Lovesongs personifies the northern rural Midwest; indeed it’s the author’s love song to a place caught between that area’s farming past and the nearby modern urban life.
My rating: 18 of 20 stars
Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.