A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry. A friend of mine gave J-Mo and I tickets to go see the Pulitzer and Tony Award winning play, Clybourne Park, which is in part based on the same story as Hansberry’s 1959 play. Clybourne Park is kind of an expanded story of Hansberry’s groundbreaking drama about race and class and real estate and an African-American family trying desperately to escape the Chicago ghetto. Before seeing Clybourne I wanted to re-read Hansberry’s work. I read it in middle school and had memorized the Langston Hughes poem that gives Hansberry’s work it’s title, but it was fascinating to re-read as an adult. It is important to note that in 1959 Hansberry was really outside of the average playwright. She was not only female, she was young (age 29), and black. Her play was not expected to even be produced, let alone to go on to become one of the greatest American plays in the modern era. Raisin is a quick read that will make you think about a lot of important-then AND important-now social issues; I highly recommend it.
Dinner: A Love Story, by Jenny Rosenstratch. My sister-in-law gave this to me for my birthday and I went home immediately and read the entire thing cover to cover, all 300 pages, without stopping. In fact, I skipped watching the Oscars because I just couldn’t put this down. Growing up my family usually had breakfast and dinner together, every day. More often than not my Mom woke up extra early and made real breakfast. Pancakes or waffles or crepes, sausage and eggs, coffee cake, cornbread, real hot chocolate (made from scratch, not from a packet or a bottle of Hershey syrup), and oatmeal you cook on the stove. She did breakfast right. As we got a little older and started going to school earlier or, heaven forbid, had 6:00 am practices the breakfast routine changed. We also had dinner together more often than not, and again it was real dinner. I don’t think I ate dinner out of a box until my freshman year of college and my roommate made Hamburger Helper, which I despised (then and now). We would beg for boxed macaroni and cheese, which my Mom would sometimes buy as a treat (WHAT WERE WE THINKING?!), but for the most part we sat down to dinner together every night, or at least often enough for me to believe that was the standard and not the exception. I loved how this book details it is not difficult to do so and while Rosenstratch doesn’t throw guilt trips your way if you are of the Hamburger Helper and bagged salad type–not at all–she talks about how the MOST IMPORTANT THING is the ritual and routine of having a meal together. I loved this book, and I will probably read through it several more times and earmark more of her recipes. Yum!
The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, by Terry Ryan. This was a book club pick and I absolutely adored it. Ryan writes the biography of her mother, a vivacious and determined woman with an alcoholic husband who raised 10 kids in the 50′s and 60′s, supporting the family by entering contests and writing jingles. Ryan weaves in dozens of poems, limericks, and contest entries her mother carefully wrote down in her “contest notebooks” and talks about whether it was a simple ice crusher or a new car, Evelyn Ryan had a knack for words and an undiminishable spirit. My own grandmother raised 10 children in about the same time period on a very meager salary (although, without the alcoholic husband). I loved my Mom’s stories of growing up in such a large family and the inventions and “make-do” arrangements they put in place to stay afloat. Part of me wants to be Evelyn Ryan when I grow up, the other part of me is thrilled I am not in her circumstance. Read this book, I know you’ll enjoy it. (Also on the docket is the 2005 movie starring Julianne Moore. Have you seen it?)
The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller. Did you ever get into the myths and stories of ancient Greece? I did a bit, but it’s been a while since I delved into something like The Odyssey or The Iliad. Miller takes a minor character, Patroclus, a companion of Achilles during the Trojan war, and wrote a wonderfully descriptive novel from his point of view. The story covers about 20 years, 10 of which are spent outside the walls of Troy. (The Trojan War was really a terrible affair, as I imagine most warfare was/is). You see Achilles grow from a young, half-god boy into the greatest warrior of his generation. You see the kindness of Patroclus and his small but in many ways very significant role in the siege of Troy. You read all about Hector and Helen and Paris (who stole Helen from Menelaus, King in Greece), and his brother Agamemnon who swore to lead an army to bring her home, and Odysseus, a Greek captain, and a host of major and lesser Greek gods, and dozens other characters of myth and legend. Goodness, it is a beautiful story. It makes me want to break out my very dusty copies of Homer’s works and see what else I don’t remember from ancient Greece. Also, I am currently working on designing and creating costumes for a Shakespeare play, Troilus and Cressida, which takes place during the Trojan War. Troilus is the younger brother to Hector/Eric Bana and Paris/Orlando Bloom and is a minor footnote in this book, but Shakespeare’s main romantic lead. Fascinating stuff!
Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe. I have heard about this book for quite a while and it’s been sitting on my shelf for at least a year, waiting for me to read it and, according to the blurb on the jacket, have my life completely changed. Perhaps my expectations were too high. I do appreciate the story, history and culture of a tribal African village with their ancient customs (most of which are really terrible if you happen to be a woman, or a child, or in any way not a fantastic warrior), but I had a hard time trying to discover why this book was supposed to change my life. It was interesting to read this book the same week as A Raisin in the Sun which has several characters who want to honor and return to these traditional, tribal African cultures. It is also interesting to note that Raisin and Things Fall Apart were both published in 1959. Anyone read it? What are your thoughts?
The War of the Worlds, by H. G. Wells. Written in 1898, this book describes the first attack on Earth by extraterrestrials, these machine-encased Martians that sort of resemble an octopus with lots of tentacles who land by the handful in the English countryside and lay waste to the villages and London. The protagonist is quite the philosopher and also keenly interested in space and astronomy, his thoughts on the invasion are kind of fascinating. Wells uses a sort of old-timey vocabulary, meaning, he uses adverbs and verbs as they were intended and the descriptions are absolutely fantastic. J-Mo and I listened to this on a road-trip and every time Wells would use something like “tentacular gesticulation” to describe the Martians many arms and their movement we’d crack up laughing. I had an interesting thought about this book, the Martians come to Earth and destroy everything in their path with their machines and their “heat ray” laser-gun things and kill everything and everyone that moves. However (spoiler!), in the end it is not machines that destroy the Martians, it is disease. I think there is an interesting parallel there, guns and bombs do a huge amount of damage with the push of a button, but micro-organisms can–for better or worse–destroy entire civilizations in a very short amount of time. Interesting food for thought.
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