Friday, May 7, 2021

Fiction Friday, May 7, 2021: American War, by Omar El Akkad

Here is one of those books I think everyone should read. I don't think everyone will like it, and I'm not sure yet if I like it, but I am glad I read it. 

Why I'm not sure whether I like it: It doesn't have a happy ending. 

Really, Louise? That's what you're saying about this book, that it doesn't have a happy ending, and that's why you might not like it? 

Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. Why do we read fiction, anyway? Because we want a happy ending! Because our real lives don't have endings yet, and we know they have an equal chance of being unhappy and unhappy, and so we desperately want to read something that has a happy ending.

But, I mean, obviously, not every book has that happy ending. So why would we read it, anyway? And why might we say it's good, anyway? Here's why:  They have an ending, and a middle, and a beginning, and a backstory, that all correspond with our understanding of the world. They have characters who seem so real, in situations that we can imagine ourselves in, behaving in ways that we know are true to life, and so we know better than to expect a happy ending. We know to expect a true ending. And that's what we get in this book. 

Here's the blurb from Amazon:

Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, and that unmanned drones fill the sky. When her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she begins to grow up shaped by her particular time and place. But not everyone at Camp Patience is who they claim to be. Eventually Sarat is befriended by a mysterious functionary, under whose influence she is turned into a deadly instrument of war. The decisions that she makes will have tremendous consequences not just for Sarat but for her family and her country, rippling through generations of strangers and kin alike.

Well done, blurb writers! You give us the general outlines without giving away the ending, which I apologize for doing, above. But I didn't really give it away. Of COURSE it doesn't have a happy ending. How could a story of a civil war, of a little girl who is "turned into a deadly instrument of war," of people on both sides of the civil war who kill and betray each other like they're turning over the burgers on a barbecue grill---how could that turn out happy? 

The book is about war, so it's about conflict, betrayal, small people's lives being ruined by greedy men (yes, they're always men, and not only in this book), by lies and false loyalties and what it takes to get someone to betray his (yes, his) promises.

But do I recommend this book? Yes, I do. I think everyone should read it. 

This is a first novel, which makes it even more remarkable. Who could write with this much knowledge and insight about everything from politics and history to life in refugee camps and along the river? Turns out that Omar El Akkad, the author, who was born in Egypt, grew up in Qatar, moved to Canada as a teenager, and now lives in the U.S. That's still not enough, though, right? He also was a reporter in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, among other places. So he knows whereof he speaks. 

He has also had essays and short stories published. Here's a short story, "Trail," that you may be able to find online. (I haven't read it yet, but will read it before this post shows up online.)

He has a new book coming out soon: What Strange Paradise.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Music in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Thanks to Angela, I've been watching these videos that analyze the way the music of the Lord of the Rings movies helps move the plot and add depth to the story. 

First, How Howard Shore Makes Us Care: How do you make music mean something, anyway? I was blown away by this analysis:


Next, How Howard Shore Uses Voices: The voices bring the language of the Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits, and Men to build emotions, both light and dark:


Then, How Howard Shore Builds Tension: Again, an insightful analysis of the power of music to enrich the story:


Finally, to sum it all up, How Music Elevates Story:


I think I've seen some other videos about the music of The Lord of the Rings, and I'll figure out how to add them, probably in a new post, sometime soon. Meanwhile, just re-watching these clips, listening to the music and the explanations of its power, has been a wonderful way to start my day.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Video Vendsday: 05 May 2021

 President Obama's Anger Translator at the Washington Correspondents' Dinner --- way back when:



Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Time Travel Has Never Been So Time-Wasting

Here are two books I hope you will never read, even if you have a lot of time on your hands: "The Secret Lake," by Karen Inglis; and "Two Girls, a Clock, and a Crooked House," by Michael Poore. I'm not even going to include pictures of the covers, like I usually do, because why would you want to see what the covers look like, if you're never going to buy either one of these books?

And I confess that I need to change the way I choose what to read. Why isn't it enough to find a strong recommendation from some other writer, anyway? Oh, I get it: They plug each other's books as a favor to each other. For all I know, they've never even read the book(s) they're writing blurbs for: they just want to make sure their pal, with the same publishing company and/or editor, returns the favor. Sorry for being so cynical. I just can't think of any other reason for anyone recommending either of these books. 

"The Secret Lake" at least is about ordinary kids who are surrounded by stupid and/or uncaring and/or clueless adults--which is how all kids' adventure stories must begin, right? They have to sneak around in order to have any fun. And, while sneaking around, they find a place where they can climb down a ladder that takes them to some past time where they meet some other kids in the same situation and solve a mystery and everyone lives happily ever after. 

The clincher here is that they can only make this trip into the other time, and then back again, when some moles, yes, moles, magical moles or something, are doing a secret dance around some molehills---in both places. Any explanation for this? What do moles have to do with anything, anyway? I have no idea. 

But at least the story is about children learning and growing and getting along in the world, as normal, decent human beings.

In contrast, the anti-heroine of the book "Two Girls, a Clock, and a Crooked House" begins her adventure by shoplifting a hoodie from the local convenience store. Not only does she steal this hoodie, but the author's description of her theft is like an instruction manual for the kids who may read the book: Here's how to do this without being caught. Isn't that crazy cute? Go ahead, try it, kids, and your parents---if they're anything like this girl's parents---won't even realize what you've done, and if you admit it, they will make some disapproving noises but that's all. Because: They're parents, and they're clueless, too wrapped up in their own little world, and they really don't care what happens to you, because if they did, they would be paying attention to what you're doing. And, BTW, all parents ARE like this. 

Oh, and also BTW, the heroine and her friend, whom she calls "Moo" even after she knows her real name, go ahead to do some more shoplifting later in the story, and, again, the way they do it is detailed so young readers will know how to do it themselves, in case they ever "need" to. 

This book is equally ridiculous in its handling of time travel. I mean, really---the author clearly has no regard for the intelligence of his readers. You don't have to be a genius to find the flaws in the story, and if Michael Poore thinks so poorly of his potential young readers, then shame on him. (And BTW I guess he does think poorly of not only his young readers, but everyone else, b/c the only other book I've read by this author is an insult to this reader's intelligence. In fact, the book, which I bought, used, based on a recommendation by some other writer, was so horrible that I didn't even put it in my "Donate to the Library" pile: I put it in my paper recycling bin. Which is what I'll do with both of these books.

Yeah, sorry to make this review such a downer. But the truth is often unpleasant, isn't it. And I've read some other books recently that I'm going to slam on these virtual pages and then slam into my paper recycling bin, too. 

Fortunately, I've read some really good books lately, and I'll be mentioning them, too---along with my random thoughts on why we care to know about authors' lives and why stories can't all have happy endings and why we humans even tell each other stories all the time.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Mothers' Day: A New Way to Celebrate

Here's another idea I got from the journalist Nicholas Kristof: Celebrating Mothers' Day, instead of Mother's Day. See the difference changing the position of the apostrophe makes?

I've already mentioned to my own children that I would rather not receive any gifts or even cards this Mother's Day. Instead, I've asked them to donate to the Mothers' Day Movement. 

This organization uses ALL its donations to help mothers all around the world. Here's where the money goes:

And here's their plea for donations this year:

Our 11th campaign beneficiary is DigDeep, a human rights non-profit working to ensure that every American has clean, running water forever. More than 2.2 million Americans still don’t have running water or basic plumbing, like a flush toilet. 44 million more don’t have clean water that’s safe to drink.

This Mothers’ Day, let’s raise $100,000 for the families served by DigDeep in honor of the special women in our lives.

This video shows the kind of help they can give:  Thirty percent of people on the Navajo Nation don't even have any running water. So the Mothers' Day Movement is helping them. 

And you know who else is helping? The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is helping. Our church has been working with the same organization, Dig Deep, since 2019, to bring clean running water to the people of the Navajo Nation. Here's more about the project and the people it's helping:

“It’s so important that we are taking care of our elders during this time,” said Robbins, who is Navajo. “As a keeper of our culture, of our language and our traditions, when we lose an elder, we lose libraries of culture and libraries of knowledge.”
Robbins said the pandemic has accelerated new relationships in the Navajo Nation. “That has been really great because we have built relationships with new communities.”
Much of the work on the reservation is done by DigDeep’s team, which consists of about 20 employees who are mostly Navajo.

And the people of the Navajo Nation are donating PPE to India. 

Talent Is Universal, But Opportunity Is Not

I saw this on Facebook this morning, and had to share it. It's from Nicholas Kristof, a writer I admire not only for his writing but for his commitment to worthy causes. 

"Remember Tani Adewumi, the Nigerian refugee boy I wrote about a couple of years ago when he won the NY State chess championship for his age group -- while living in a homeless shelter? Readers then stepped up and helped the family get housing and helped the parents get jobs. Here's a joyful update: Tani just won another championship, in Fairfield, CT, and is now (as a 10-year-old fifth grader) a Chess National Master with a rating of 2223. In "Tightrope," we wrote that Tani exemplifies the principle that "talent is universal, but opportunity is not." He was able to soar because his homeless shelter was in a school district with a chess program, and the teacher realized that his family didn't have resources and waived the chess club fees. We need more of that! Here's a picture of Chess Master Tani!"

 

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Mo's 75th Anniversary!

I had no idea Mo's was this old. I haven't even been to all the Mo's locations. But here's an article from the Oregonian about how they'll be celebrating

From the story: 

Dylan McEntee had been on the road for nearly 10 hours, pulling a trailer loaded with Mo’s chowder and cobbler en route to Utah where customers awaited their orders. Taking a rest stop with his family near Eureka, Nev., Dylan heard a knock on the window, and turned to see the sheriff. It didn’t look good.

“He asked me, ’'Do you have chowder in that trailer?’” said Dylan, whose great-grandmother Mo Niemi founded Mo’s Seafood and Chowder. “I said, ‘I do.’ He said, ‘Oh, my wife would kill me if I didn’t buy some.’”

It was one of the many memorable moments from a spring of road trips forced by COVID-19, a Hail Mary move designed to save the family business that began in Newport in 1946. What should have been a year of preparation for Mo’s 75th anniversary celebration, became instead a year of worry, doubt and the very real possibility that Mo’s wouldn’t see that milestone.

If you want the rest of the story, check with me, and I'll email it to you.  I'll put some of my own photos up here, eventually. Meanwhile, here are two pics from the Oregonian story: