Review by Marty Miller (guest reviewer for Inklings Bookshop)
I’ve always been a wannabe sailor. A couple years ago I joined the Yakima Makers Space and (over the course of more months than I care to admit) built a small pram which I occasionally sail in nearby lakes. When the opportunity to read some historic, nautical nonfiction came about, my response was a hearty “Aye, matey!”
Before overnight shipping and next-day delivery, international trade was carried out by large ships powered by sail and steam. Voyages lasted months and the crews faced incredible hardships, severe weather, fist fights, injuries and charges of murder!
Forty Years Master by Daniel O. Killman is the story of an expert sailor and his adventures on oceans and in ports around the globe. Our narrator is Master Daniel O. Killman himself, who did us the favor of recording detailed notes of his travels, beginning in the 1870s and continuing well into the 1920s.
Killman begins with some background of his early years, growing up in Maine and finding himself on the crew of a ship at a very young age. He quickly begins traveling further distances, gaining valuable experience and rising the ranks of ships’ crews.
Did you know that in Ireland, every four years, when February 29th comes around ladies can propose to their lovers and the gentlemen must say yes? I had no idea many Americans didn't know that until recently. Well, it is an old Irish tradition that makes for some fun stories to tell and in this case, a very well written romantic comedy.
Lucky Leap Day is the story of Cara, who after one too many whiskeys on Leap Day, proposes to her taxi driver - who also happens to be a musician in the Irish bar she ended up at during her last night in Ireland. She wakes up the morning after with a tin foil ring on her finger, a bad hangover, and a new husband. Because well, it was Leap Day, Finn could not reject such a proposal!
Cara has a flight in just a few hours that she cannot miss. The most important meeting of her career is waiting for her. So they do the most logical thing: Cara, Finn, and his dog, pack their bags and fly to the US. After all, it is much easier to annul a marriage if both parties are in the same country.
This past fall a co-worker of mine met conservation biologist and author, Thor Hanson, at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association’s trade show. He gave an engaging talk about his new book, Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid: the Fraught and Fascinating Biology of Climate Change and she brought back a signed copy for me.
Hanson looks at how rapidly changing ecosystems are affecting plant and animal species already. However, his examples don’t all lead to extinction and despair. He reminds us that the earth is constantly changing and shows just how in many places, life can quickly adapt to rising temperatures, increasing storms, and drier droughts. The crisis of climate change is acknowledged, but not emphasized. We learn how the biology we already understand points to what we can expect.
The disruptions which a warming planet bring can place species in situations for which they have not evolved. Changing Camas flower bloom times affect pollinators. Fence lizards and other heliotherms, who regulate body temperature by basking in the sun, can lose time for feeding and reproducing when they are more often seeking shade. Brown pelicans, on the move northward for better conditions, create new competition for food sources. These are just a few examples of the complex changes Hanson observes first hand and presents in his clear and enthusiastic writing.
Do you love a good recipe book? If you do, do you have any idea where and how the recipe books we have today came to be?
Miss Eliza's Kitchen is a historical fiction novel based on the life of Miss Elizabeth Acton. Elizabeth Acton produced the very first English cooking book for the everyday housewife that provides a list of measurements and precise instructions for cooking. Though if you do manage to find yourself a copy of Elizabeth's Acton's book somewhere, the list of ingredients will be at the end rather than at the beginning of each recipe. Nevertheless, can you imagine having to make something with no list of ingredients and no measurements? Just 'a bit' of this, and 'a touch' of that?
The story is told alternately by Ann (servant) and Eliza (Miss of the house). We get a good view of the way each of them thinks and how, although their lives are completely different, some of their fears and internal struggles are oh so similar.
When I sit down to write a book review, I feel an obligation to my readers and to myself. I hope to inspire readers to pick up the book that I am reviewing and I try to do a good enough job that I am pleased with my product. This time, however, I experienced a new feeling. When I sat down to write this review, I felt an obligation to the book itself. All That She Carried won the prestigious 2021 nonfiction National Book Award and it’s one that I hope we all read.
Author Tiya Miles is an American historian and a history professor at Harvard and Radcliffe. She’s written 5 books about the Black American experience. Among these were her first book entitled Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom. She also wrote The Dawn of Detroit: A Chronicle of Slavery and Freedom in the City of the Straits. I admit it: I am not generally a nonfiction fan; I much prefer a story. But Miles makes history come alive with her exhaustive research and a writing style that is extremely readable for those of us who aren’t intellectual heavyweights.
All That She Carried follows in the footsteps of her previous histories. I found it intriguing and insightful. At a Tennessee flea market in 2007, an unsuspecting white woman purchased a run-of-the-mill cotton sack, about the size of a standard pillow case. When she got it home she found it had been hand embroidered with these words: “My great grandmother Rose mother of Ashley gave her this sack when she was sold at age 9 in South Carolina it held a tattered dress 3 handfulls of pecans a braid of Roses hair. Told her It be filled with my love always she never saw her again Ashley is my grandmother- Ruth Middleton, 1921”
Always Human is a coming-of-age, romantic graphic novel featuring science fiction elements and addressing how we may miss how others experience life separate from our own bubble. There are plenty of different queer representations throughout the story. There are so many beautiful illustrations and lovely use of colors, as well.
Our story opens with our main character, Sunati, explaining how she has seen this girl at the train stop who never changes her appearance. The reason this is of note is that in the future, people can change their appearance automatically through use of mods. She thinks that not changing appearances as well as looking more natural is brave and wishes that she had that sort of confidence. Many people change their appearance quite frequently, however, there are some people who have a disease called Egan’s Syndrome, which causes their body to reject modifications.
Sunati hasn’t worked up the courage to speak to this mysterious girl. Finally, an opportunity presents itself. Austen, the mystery girl, sneezes. Sunati offers her a tissue, noting that it is for a hayfever mod. Austen bursts into tears as she explains that she can’t use mods and that she always looks the same all the time, always human. She quickly gets embarrassed for her outburst and rushes away.
After this, Sunati searches on if it is possible to not be able to use mods. Her search yields the information of the previously stated disease, Egan’s Syndrome. This also causes a dawning realization that while she could use memory mods to get through school, Austen has to learn and memorize everything the “old-fashioned” way. For several days after, Sunati doesn’t see her at the station. Then, she is approached by Austen, who asks her to coffee to apologize and explain her outburst.
During this, Sunati proposes going on a date, to which Austen declines initially, saying that people always are interested in her for the wrong reasons. However, after some explaining and convincing, she agrees to the date.
I retired in 2011 and finally had the time to do some serious reading. One of the things I decided to do was to go back and actually read some of the books that I had been asked to read for various classes and never had truly read. I passed all those classes, by the way, with flying colors. Undoubtedly my superpower has something to do with a higher than average level of something I like to call BS-ability. I started with a belated mental apology to my ninth grade English teacher as I read A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations. I followed up with all those I lied about in college: The Brothers Karamazov, Don Quixote, The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, Robinson Crusoe, and even the infamous Moby Dick. Are all of these books wonderful? Of course, they’re all examples of great literature! Does each of these books resonate equally with all readers? Of course not, each of us brings our own life experiences to our reading armchairs when we sit down with a good book.
That being said, here are a few other entries on my Later Life Redemptive Reading List. These are books that resonated with me on every level and I am very thankful that I was:
1. asked to read them early in life so that I could
2. neglect to read them when assigned so that I could
3. read them later in life and bring a full set of life experiences to the armchair.
And so, in no particular order (except that I put my favorite first):
The Grapes of Wrath is the story of an Oklahoma family forced off their farm in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. They travel to California in search of work and a new home.
I’m glad I lied about reading it as a student, because I really enjoyed reading it as an adult. This is a “no-duh” for most of you, but I finally figured out what the “grapes of wrath” were, and where they were stored, and why we should hope they will be trampled. What a great title! His wife came up with it. Steinbeck was going to call it The Harvest Gypsies. He wrote it to tell the plight of migrant farm workers and it does so admirably. But it should also be on the I Have Read bookshelf of every feminist. That Ma Joad! “Man, he lives in jerks…Woman, it’s all one flow, like a stream, little eddies, little waterfalls, but the river, it goes right on. Woman looks at it like that…Ever’thing we do —seems to me is aimed right at going on…Jus’ try to live the day, jus’ the day.” What a memorable character! What great lines! What a great book!
This is Janie’s story. She is a Southern Black woman whose life shines with independence, strength and wit even though burdened with poverty, social injustice and the trials of early century womanhood. I love love love this book for three reasons. Hurston’s poetic imagery and her stylistic wordsmithing are outstanding. She is able to immerse the reader in the culture of Black 1920s rural Florida. It’s captivating. Janie’s story is every woman’s story and Hurston tells it artfully in this novel. It’s empowering.Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
George and Lenny are itinerant ranch hands in Depression Era California.Their friendship is endearing, priceless, and ill-fated. It’s a short little book (just around 100 pages), but in those pages Steinbeck packs all the feels. One of the characteristics of great literature is that each rereading provides new discovery. Of Mice and Men certainly qualifies as great literature in that regard. Because I know how it ends, each time I read it I am sad through the whole dang thing. It’s so tragic and desolate. Each time Lenny talks about the little farm and “livin’ off the fat of the land” it gut punches me. Steinbeck writes in a very direct, realistic, honest way about the disenfranchised of America’s Great Depression. I hate to read it, but I’ll read it again and again. Maybe one day I’ll read it and Lenny and George will get their little piece of land in the end.