Thursday, July 18, 2013

Review--"And The Mountains Echoed"

     I have long been a fan of author, Khaleed Hosseini, of “Kite Runner” fame, and his latest book, “And The Mountains Echoed” didn’t disappoint. Larger in scope than “Kite Runner”, it follows several interwoven characters through their lives, as they journey across the globe, from Kabul to Paris, to Greece, and America.
      In spite of being at times confusing, with sudden transitions and junctures, Hosseini manages, with his capacious talent for writing, to maintain the story arc throughout. The concept of family becomes intriguing, as does the idea of “home”, and what constitutes one’s cultural heritage. In the modern world, where very few people stay in one place, the lines are becoming blurred, and this idea is explored beautifully, with all the characters impacted, as in real life, by both internal and external forces, that help determine who they become as people.
     Poetic and meditative, with a gentle pace, “And The Mountains Echoed” is the perfect book for a rainy evening, when one is feeling introspective. Poor a cup of tea, put your feet up, and enjoy.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Review--"Sharp Objects"

     Fans of Gillian Flynn's popular thriller, "Gone Girl" might have seen "Sharp Objects" on the shelf and wanted to give it a read. Be warned--deeper, darker mysteries await. Less psychological head game than "Gone Girl", and more macabre and disturbing, "Sharp Objects" is not for the prudish or righteous.
     Flawed characters abound, and ugly lifestyles loom large, not sparing the heroine, a reporter returning to her small, insular hometown to investigate some child murders. Flynn manages to build characters that seem both real and impossibly imaginary, characters whose foibles and imperfections become normal and acceptable.... a world where if everyone is crazy, then no one is.
     Ugly, violent, and warped are all fitting terms for a book where the characters themselves are, metaphorically-speaking, the "sharp objects" in question. Reading the book is kind of like witnessing a terrible accident. You want to look away, but you are compelled to gaze on in horror as circumstances unfold.
     Though I don't know if I call myself a fan of Flynn's writing, I can certainly say she bewitches readers with her words, drawing unsuspecting souls into a world where everything is askew and the way out becomes muddy and hidden. Only when she is done with you, does Flynn spit you out, sullied and shaken, yet oddly ready to return for more.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Review--Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi

Laughter, Grace, and Yoga, Oh My!

Anxiety.... it’s safe to say that every American suffers from it, at least from time to time. Attention Deficit Disorder is an affliction suffered by fewer, but one that is more frequently diagnosed in our modern culture newly fascinated with instantaneous information and governed by shorter attentions spans. 
More often than not, ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is managed with drugs, joining the ranks of diseases and disorders for which an extremely expensive little pill is the promised cure. Occasionally, though, people try to manage their afflictions in a more holistic way, through diet, exercise, and other alternatives that are attempts to forego the medicated path. These attempts are met with mixed results, depending on the individual, the condition being managed, and the methods used. 
Eastern philosophies and practices have gained an increasing foothold in the western world, and meditation, bikram, and lotus position, are no longer merely exotic terms found only inside the boundaries of a bohemian commune in the rolling hills of Northern California. Yoga has hit the mainstream and every YMCA features a myriad of classes, and specialty yoga centers are on every street corner.
In his belly-achingly funny book,  “Adventures of a Garden State Yogi”, author Brian Leaf immerses the reader in the world of yoga as though narrating an episode of Portlandia. Barely two paragraphs into this charming memoir-style self-help book, one’s stomach muscles are aching from laughter as though one has spent the last half hour in plank pose. 
Yoga literacy is not necessary to enjoy Leaf’s account of his journey through the discovery of the discipline in 1989, which was, according to the author, “... before many guys did yoga. Men can now hug and cry and do yoga and drink white wine and wear an apron and cook free-range chicken picatta. But in 1989, we were pretty much hemmed in between Al Bundy and Magnum P.I.--limited to watching televised sports, eating large pieces of meat, and drinking cheap beer stored in a small fridge next to the couch.”
Landing upon a yoga class as an elective at Georgetown University (by-passing the less “exotic” choices of jazz dance, squash, and step aerobics), Leaf quickly discovers that he is exactly where he is meant to be. “Oskar’s yoga class touched the right chord and made my soul sing. I had signed up for yoga on a lark, but even in that first class, I knew what I had found.” 
What he had found, in addition to an elixir for his blossoming ADD, was a natural remedy for his colitis, which had flared up regularly since high school. Detailed in a humorous and (very) self-deprecating style, the author highlights the travails of his stress-induced gastrointestinal nightmares in a Seinfeld-esque journey to cure his chronic ailments and to, ultimately, find inner peace. 

Part road trip memoir, part spiritual guidance manual, “Adventures of a Garden State Yogi” has one “ommmming” right along with Leaf, a humorous guru who does not take himself or the practice of yoga too seriously. He performs “serious” yoga, but he clearly left his ego back in the 80’s with the “very tight spandex, neon sweatbands, leg warmers, and feather hair.” 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Review: Fever

    Typhoid Mary. It's a term that has been used enough in our culture to be familiar, but what is not commonplace is the source of the term, the real woman who bore that infamous title. I'll be the first to admit that I was unaware of the derivation of the phrase. I honestly had never really thought about it. Clearly, though, author Mary Beth Keane did give it some thought, and has written "Fever", her novel based on the tragic circumstance of Irish immigrant, Mary Mallon, who became famous in the early 20th Century for nothing more than not getting sick.
     Typhoid was rampant in the filthy urban environments of the East Coast during the Industrial Revolution. Little was understood about the spreading of disease, and the idea of cleanliness and hygiene had not taken root. Keane's fascinating account of the capture and imprisonment of the young cook, Mary Mallon, reads well and paints a vivid picture of her unfortunate life, in which the public health department of New York determined she was a threat to society, a carrier of Typhoid, putting her in confinement on an island in the East River.
    Mary Mallon emerges as a very tangible character, a strong woman with a talent for cooking and a caring nature. But, her life is turned upside down by the fear of the community, which find it is easier to hide her away as a pariah, convinced she is a health hazard.
    "Fever" brings the streets of New York alive, and reminds one that history is not just names without faces attached. Lessons can be learned by digging a little deeper and discovering the true stories beneath the names. This was a joy to read.