Book Corner 2020.24


Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn

“The kingdom of Hawai’i had long been broken – the breathing rain forests and singing green reefs crushed under the haole fists of beach resorts and skyscrapers…”

A tremendously good book with an unfortunately awful title. Synopses will tell you it is about a boy who is magically rescued by sharks and goes on to have supernatural powers, and you might wonder why you should read a silly fantasy tale like that (with an awful title to boot). But this is really the story of a Hawaiian family with deep, magically realistic ties to the earth; as well as the story of a modern family going to shambles.

I went to the Big Island of Hawaii once and it had a life-altering effect on my spiritual attitude, i.e. it gave me one. I think it was at the point that a guide told us that the lava flows were “Pele’s hair.” We all hear about nature-worshipping religions and the Gaia theory, but only in Hawaii did I feel it literally. No, that particular lava flow really IS Pele’s hair. So they don’t want you to take a pickax to it, to my husband’s disappointment. (It’s gotta be a lot easier to adhere to a religion like that in a place with no winter. In Vermont, one feels bereft; god is literally dormant for so long.)

This book brought it all to life. “Fire goddess Pele with her unyielding strength, birthing the land again and again in lava, exhaling her sulfur breath across the sky…”

The family suffers from poverty, must leave the Big Island for jobs in the cities in Oahu. The parents work hard to send their children to colleges on the mainland. The one who is blessed with healing powers, Noa, becomes a paramedic. The eldest, Dean, becomes for a short time a basketball star; and the youngest, Kaui, goes to school for engineering. But always, the poverty:

“My grandmother’s grandmother’s grandmother had no use for paper printed with the silhouette of some faraway haole man. It gave nothing. What was needed was food from the earth, housing from the earth, medicine from the earth… But ships from far ports carried a new god in their bellies… And money was the name of that god, and it was the sort of god that preyed on you, made demands and laid its hands on you with such force as to make the Old Testament piss its pants.”

In the end, it is not giving too much away to note that it seems significant that Kaui’s job pays her not in money but in food from the earth. But I did not like how Dean ended up; and I don’t know the significance of the fact that what he provided for the family was money. ( )

Addendum: I own this in physical form and will loan.


Book Corner 2020.23


Black Is the Body by Emily Bernard

For book club. Local professor of black studies writes observational essays. I liked the shout-outs to Vermont, at first. It gradually became clear though that she does not feel at home here, and I started to feel judged. As an adoptee, I also enjoyed the segments about adopting her twins. Other than that, it was hard to feel interested. ( )

Book Corner 2020.22


Bending Reality by Bernice Kelman

Really Chris?  You read a book mostly dictated by an energy force calling himself “Sir Garrod”?

Well, a lot of it, yes, I did.

Because it was given to me by my neighbor, the author, Bernice, with whom I’ve lately set up a weekly grocery shopping date.

And at least half of it, I skimmed or skipped.  Not of interest.  And yet… the underlying message is nothing wacky, nothing hard to get behind, nothing more simple than… love.

And I like that she – or, she would correct me, he/she/it, Sir Garrod – supports the theory of parallel universes, a favorite of mine.  To wit:
“Consider that this is a central path and that as you move along this path, every time you come to a decision-making point, you are at a crossroad where you create alternate versions of yourself that each explore a different decision.”

There is stuff in physics that suggests that indeed every ‘decision’ made by a quantum particle simultaneously goes both one way and the other, forking off an infinite number of universes.  So you see, scientific basis!

Seriously, it’s just a vision I like… it gives me a calm feeling to envision the dominoes of the universe all hitting each other, my path just being one path of dominoes among infinitely many.  Maybe this is what “belief” is, or spirituality, or somesuch.  Do I “believe” this?  What does “believe” mean?  That word has always rubbed me the wrong way because in practice it always seems to mean, “I aver this is true even without evidence.”  If you had evidence, you wouldn’t say “I believe…” you’d just say the fact that’s true.

All I can say about my parallel universe theory is that it could be true and I like to think about it.  Whatever that makes me – spiritual, wack – is what I am, so whatever.

But this is my own sidetrack, and not the central message of the book.  The central message is what Jesus was trying and failing to get us to do from the beginning: love one another.  Just love.

Gives me a warm rosy glow when I’m tipsy just before bed, but so hard to do in the glare of the morning.



Book Corner 2020.21



I really enjoyed this. The protagonist is a 60-something-year-old male recently retired and divorced. He spends his time in his char, drinking beers, watching bad TV, eating horribly unhealthy foods by the sackful, and avoiding people. He dislikes his ex-brother-in-law who insists on visiting him, and seriously considers changing his phone number to avoid his daughter. His life turns around when he impulsively adopts a dog. I just really loved this story. ( )

PS  I own it physically and am willing to lend.

Book Corner 2020.20


Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli

This was very tough to get into, and I’d say for the first 25% I was ready to abandon it. It started out very thinky and talky and I was afraid there’d be little plot. I kept giving it another shot because it was for book club. I felt like she felt about reading Kerouac on page 76: “I read like I had to finish an infinite bowl of lukewarm soup.” It was the kind of book that would throw a word at you like “edulcorated.” I’m 50 and I’ve polished off a fair number of books. This was a new one on me.

I’d say about halfway through, the plot got strong. About 75% of the way through, though, I wasn’t at all sure anymore. But at the end, I just said: Wow. It was just plain beautiful and powerful.

Do you want the plot? Couple, 10-year-old boy, and 5-year-old girl drive from NYC to the southwest for the father’s research project on Apaches and the mother’s attempts to help an immigrant locate her two missing undocumented little girls. First half or so is narrated by the mother. The ‘marriage is ending’ – this plot point is part of what gave me intense dislike in the first 25%, but let me not start complaining about that. Second half or so is narrated by the boy. I don’t think I’ll give away any spoilers, but things do happen.

I have to on balance give it only 3 stars because it threatened to lose me so often. ( )

Book Corner 2020.19


Emma by Jane Austen

Write a review of EMMA? Well, as long as I am permitted to write three very dull things indeed, I should have no problem. Why, I am as sure to write three dull things the moment my fingers touch the keyboard, am I right?

Austen’s best story, IMHO. The annotated edition from Harvard is as usual superb. I absolutely love how he makes frequent reference to both the excellent Gwyneth Paltrow 1990s movie version, as well as CLUELESS from the same decade, the latter being for sure my favorite Austen adaptation ever. I know there is a new 2019 movie adaptation as well which I must see for completeness’ sake – somehow, as I don’t stream and they don’t seem to make DVD’s anymore.

Two of my favorite quotes from this work:

“Oh, Miss Woodhouse, for the pleasure of sometimes being alone!”

And, “One half the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other half” – I had that on a t-shirt once. ( )

Book Corner 2020.17


Northanger Abbey: an Annotated Edition

Jane Austen at her best – so much better than the humorless MANSFIELD PARK, whose annotated edition I read earlier this year. Jane as narrator is just a barrel of laughs in this one. I bookmarked a few of my favorite quotes.

“Mrs. Allen immediately recognized the features of a former schoolfellow and intimate, whom she had seen only once since their respective marriages, and that many years ago. Their joy on this meeting was very great, as well it might, since they had been contented to know nothing of each other for the last fifteen years.”

“It would be mortifying to the feelings of many ladies, could they be made to understand how little the heart of man is affected by what is costly or new in their attire; how little it is biased by the texture of their muslin, and how unsusceptible of peculiar tenderness towards the spotted, the sprigged, the mull or the jackonet.”

“The expectations of his friend Morland, from the first over-rated, had ever since his introduction to Isabella, been gradually increasing; and by merely adding twice as much for the grandeur of the moment, by doubling what he chose to think the amount of Mr. Morland’s preferment, trebling his private fortune, bestowing a rich aunt, and sinking half the children, he was able to represent the whole family to the General in a most respectable light.”

The annotations are mostly excellent. Quibble, after a while it felt like they became downright harping on the lack of feminine power in Austen’s society, constantly conjecturing whether in this passage or that she was commenting on it, insinuating on it, etc. ( )

7-Apr 8-Apr 9-Apr 10-Apr
Did you stay home today? Curbside burgers & beer Yes, 100% Curbside Mexican Yes, 100%
What was for dinner? Curbside burgers & beer Ravioli Curbside Mexican Leftovers
What business or charity did you support? Curbside burgers & beer Single Pebble gift card & employee fund Curbside Mexican Sweet Clover (advance order)
7-Apr 8-Apr 9-Apr 10-Apr
Positive test results 308 324 336 336
Positive test results* 575 605 628 679
Total tests conducted 7,129 7,749 8,181 8,657
Deaths+ 23 23 23 24
People being monitored 46 48 47 44
People who have completed monitoring 767 773 777 781
Hospitalized patients with COVID-19 29 35 33 32
Hospitalized patients under investigation for COVID-19 51 40 44 43

Check that out – one curve, for one day, in one state, has been flattened!