Never Let Me Go

There are only a handful of novels that have made me want to cry in order to purge myself of the myriad emotions upon reaching the conclusion.  I’m not a crier.  Unless it’s weddings, graduations, and sports events.  But after reading this book I really envy my wife who can cry for five minutes wipe her eyes and move on with life.  Not so with me.  After shutting the book, or most likely tossing it across the room out of sheer madness for making me feel like this, I tend to sit there catching my breath trying to process everything.  Only besides The Book Thief have I felt as bad as Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro made me feel.

NeverNever Let Me Go is told by Kathy, one of the three protagonists of the novel.  She begins in her current time and flashes back to her childhood in order to explain her story.  It’s hard to give a plot summary without spoiling anything.  The crux of the book is that the readers are just as in the dark as the characters are about their purpose in life and the challenges they will face.  You do notice odd things about the characters’ upbringing and, while Kathy doesn’t seem to be aware that these things aren’t normal, we do.  As the novel continues and Kathy becomes more aware of the differences between the life she and her friends lead and the lives everyone else is living, we readers are suddenly brought to the poignant truth of the purpose of Kathy and her friends’ lives.

This is a haunting book in the sense that halfway through it you have an idea that not all is well in Kathy’s world.  And you don’t fear for her–you pity her.  Ishiguro does an astounding job of making Kathy a reliable, well rounded narrator and character in her own story.  She’s very similar to Nick in The Great Gatsby.  Her innocence in life is reflected in the way she tells her story.  Which makes it all the more harrowing when she realizes the direction her life is going to take.

Before I spoil anything I’ll wrap this up by saying that this is going to be one of those books I’d take to a desert island and reread over again.  I’m going to miss spending my days with Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth.  And I suspect you will too.

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Neighborhood Sharks

I love sharks.  I also have a weird phobia of sharks.  It’s a weird combination.  So each Shark Week it’s a wild ride of fascination and fear.  So while browsing an amazing independent book store in Milwaukee (Boswell Books), I saw this sitting on their “New Book” shelf and couldn’t resist the temptation to peruse it.  Another part that drew me in to this particular shark tome, was that it focuses on the Farallon Islands, just west of San Francisco in the Pacific, and being from the Bay Area, I always enjoy books from that region.

Some of you may remember that the Farallon Islands had some recent notoriety when an Orca attacked and killed a Great White shark in front of whale watchers in the waters off the Farallons.  This was a bizarre episode, but it made us all more aware of the interactions between the apex predators in the Pacific.  What I find fascinating is that because of Shark Week, Planet Earth, Blue Planet, and other documentaries, more people are educated about sharks.  With education comes respect and a lack of myths, legends, and fear.

SharkThat’s exactly what Katherine Roy is attempting with Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands.  It’s an educational and entertaining read about why Great Whites gather at the Farallons, where they go when they aren’t there, how they hunt, and what makes them different from other predators.  A lot of what Ms. Roy write isn’t new, but in this format it’s a good review and entertaining to see the illustrations.  Who doesn’t love to see a half-eaten seal carcass in the background?

All in all I think this a good read for those interested in sharks. It’s not sensational, but it does a good quick overview of why sharks are important and what makes them tick.  So in preparation for August’s Shark Week, give this book a read.

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Excellent Women

My wife has read most of the works by Barbara Pym, but not Excellent Women, which is why she selected it for our book club.  I had mixed feelings about it.  From what she’s told me and what I gathered from reading the back of the book, it seemed like some sort of old-lady-BBC program.  Thankfully, after getting through the first half of the novel, I was nicely surprised at the turn of events.

Excellent WomenThe book takes place in London in the 1950’s.  The protagonist is Mildred Lathbury (it’s such so British it almost hurts), who’s living on her own adjusting to life as a potential spinster.  Ms. Pym nicely doesn’t give us Mildred’s age until twenty pages in.  She’s thirty.  It’s almost comical how much she’s dreading being a spinster.  I had to laugh because just recently I turned thirty and I have several friends, male and female, who just turned thirty.  It’s hard for me to imagine any of them being considered spinsters.

While I at first thought Mildred to be whiny, once the conflicts all came to a head, I actually began to root for her.  Suddenly her whining didn’t seem so self-driven as it was her questioning herself due to societal pressures from her social network.  She’s constantly being questioned whether she’ll marry, and every single man is seen as a suitor for her.  Married women look down on her and make her to feel inferior, and men, married and single, take advantage of her singleness by dumping all their problems on her day and night and don’t consider that she has feelings and boundaries too.

By the end of the novel it became clear what Ms. Pym was trying to tell me and why she titled her book Excellent Women.  It’s sort of a cautionary tale.  That excellent women tend to be treated quite poorly by society.  Because they are sincere and stand firm for their beliefs, they don’t marry the first guy who proposes and they don’t ensnare men just to have husbands.  But that’s not what makes them excellent.  It’s the fact that even though society punishes them, they don’t become cynical or bitter.  Instead they keep their sincerity and honesty and live a good life being a good person.  And those who would see them succumb to the pressure usually leave and it’s other excellent men and women who remain in their lives.

Oh that my daughters (if I have any in the future) would be considered excellent women.  Mildred is a great role model.  She’s joining my cadre of female role models I would want my daughters to follow along with Elizabeth Bennett, Anne Elliott, and Katniss Everdeen.  Welcome to the club Ms. Lathbury!

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