I've Been Reading...

Summer is for reading.  
I remember when I was in high school, I could hardly wait to lose myself in a great novel.
I haven't changed.

I still love to lose myself in a great novel.  I wish I had kept a list of all the books I've read throughout my lifetime.  I did attempt to put a list together on Goodreads.  Then, I neglected putting in the latest book I finished because it felt too much like I had to write a book report.  I hated writing book reports in school.  I guess deep down inside I felt guilty when I used to assign book reports when I was teaching.  I could feel my students' pain at times.  Book reports were a necessary evil in the high school English/Language Arts classroom.  It was an expectation that students read and then write about what they read.  

I have a few friends whom I can always count on to ask, "What are you reading?"  I love to discuss the books I read.  And I love hearing what other people are reading.  Only reading itself is better than having a good book talk.    I guess one of the things I miss the most about not being in the classroom either as a student or as a teacher is "book talks."  Even though I might really dislike writing about a book, there is also a bit of an empty feeling that I get if I can't talk about a book I just finished.  So, here is a bit about what I've been reading.  

I've been hooked on Susan Howatch lately.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
How did I miss reading Susan Howatch until now?  I've just finished reading three of her novels.  Now, I am hooked on reading her books.

As another reviewier has said, "reading The Rich Are Different made me remember why I love reading." This was true for me also.  I love reading when I've found a great story that allows me to become immersed in the book. I find it hard to put the book down.  I think about the story lines.  I think about the characters as if I know them personally.

Early in this story Howatch introduces the reader to Paul Van Zale, a millionaire investment banker from New York who during the 1920's has gone to England on bank business.  He is a flawed, but powerful character, whose worst fear is being known for the weakness he must hide from the world. He is a man interested in the classics.  Powerful, ruthless, rich, he constantly worries about appearances.  He longs for intimacy, but sees relationships as transactional only.  He is a banker after all.

While he is in England, he is introduced to Dinah Slade,  a much younger damsel in distress.  By a wily scheme she is presented to him in the most creative and fantastical way.  She is smart, ambitious, and also interested in the classics.  Paul Van Zale has met his match in Dinah.  Cunning and intelligent, she is destined to become a rich and powerful woman in her own right.  She just needs to find someone to fund her ventures and save her ancestral  home. Paul is that person.  Duplicitous to the core, Paul can't be trusted, and he cannot trust.  This truth provides a foundation for a classic struggle that will be a theme  that forms one of the central plot lines in the book.   Will Paul ultimately solve Dinah's problem of saving her beloved home and heritage, or will she in the end be the only one who can save it?

Some have compared the story to a retelling of the story of Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony, and Cleopatra.  Certainly all the  themes of greed, ambition, love, and deception are found in the story.

This story is timeless.  The setting is brilliant because where can one tell a story about greed, excesses, and amoral behavior better than in the setting of the banking industry during the 1920's.  The characters are developed excellently as the narrator changes throughout the novel.  In the beginning, the story is told through Paul Van Zale.  Then, the other main characters develop the telling of the story through their voices.  I admire Howatch's character development.  She is the master at doing that.

She weaves together a story so well that even through one is sad to finish the book, one is also deeply satisfied by the reading of a good piece of writing.  Few write sagas as well as Susan Howatch.

Now, I am off to read the next book in this series.  I am hooked.

A Thank You, A Blog Link, and A Review

A Thank You from Keicha:

It seems so strange to feel such love and support from people I've never met. Thanks to each of you for all of your very kind and encouraging words. I don't feel strong, or brave, mostly what I feel is that I just want my sister back. I know that will never happen, so the next best thing I can do is hopefully prevent someone from ever having to go through such a horrific loss.

Thank you again for your constant support and feedback. It really does help.

A Blog Link:

I am attaching a link to my daughter's blog.  When Keicha was a child, whenever she would misbehave, which was quite rare, her punishment was that she had to put down her book and go outside and play.  Books have always been her passion.  

Having read prolifically since her earliest days, it is no wonder that she is such a wonderful writer.  I am quite proud of her ability to express herself so well with her writing.  I am sorry that she must write about the hard topics of grief and loss, but I am grateful she can use her gift of writing to examine these topics.  I know that her heart hopes that her writing helps others just as she has benefited from the writings of others.

The link to her blog is below:

A Review:

I hope to create a new topic for my blog which features books I have read about loss, grief, and the difficult subject of suicide.  Reading and writing have been an important part of my journey through grief.  Perhaps, the books I have read will also benefit others.

Blue NightsBlue Nights by Joan Didion
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is difficult to write a review about this book because I can't be objective.  I can't be objective because as I read this book, I felt as if I were reading my own thoughts, questions, sorrows, regret, memories, and psychological battles.  I lost my daughter a year and a half ago.  That is why I felt as if I were reading my own story.

I wanted Joan Didion to tie up the loose ends of grief for me.  I wanted her to give my some answers on how she coped with her loss.  I wanted to know that she was doing just fine.  I knew I wouldn't find these answers, but in my own denial about my own daughter's death, I hoped that just possibly she had been able to accomplish something I could not.

Joan forced me to confront some memories of Julie that I had buried in a place in my mind I could not visit.  While I did not want to lose what little I had left of my daughter, the memories of her alive and well, I wished not to really see her either.  Seeing her made her loss more unbearable.

I wept so many times in this book.  I wept for Joan, for Quintana, for Julie, for me.  I wept because so many memories were very much alive.  I saw them as if I were first seeing the smile that swept across my daughter's face the first time I held her after her birth.  I vividly remembered how her eyes locked in on mine and she held my gaze when she was just hours old.  I visited those memories, and my heart broke all over again.  I went over the details of the memory in my mind.  I saw her hair, smelled it, held it in my hands, but only in my memory.  I allowed myself to do this as I read this book.

I read some of this book while sitting in a cold doctor's office, just as Joan Didion described.  I had to close the book and put it away because I started weeping nearly uncontrollably.  I have been in that same place as she was in.  In fact, I was in that place.  I have experienced the psychological and physical toll that such a death takes on the mother who survives.

Joan Didion does not resolve anything in this book.  There is no resolution.  How can there be when a mother loses a child?

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