Thinking Thursday

Daughter Dear (DD) is dancing in a ballet in ten days’ time, which means rehearsals and hours spent in dance studio waiting rooms which are overheated, smelly, noisy and panic-inducing. In between rehearsals & school, throw in castings for other odds & sods, and you have the recipe for exhaustion and/or febrile fits (read my old post here to see why I worry about these). When DD finally surfaced this morning, she decided we were doing ‘home school’ today. Happy days, she is recognising her physical limitations on her own and I don’t have to be the bad guy any more. Well, at least for today.

Her topic at school this term is the Stone Age, so I had to stretch my imagination this morning to come up with Mesolithically-appropriate challenges: if Croog hunts down a bison, and it weighs so much, and he devours so much per day, will he make it through the winter? Will he need to supplement his diet? I could feel my synapses short-circuiting and dreaded the next segment.

anne-frank-346861_640

Image from Pixabay

Thankfully, by the time we got to the English part of our entertainment learning, she just wanted to continue reading Anne Frank’s Diary. Great, let’s discuss fascism & genocide for a change. The last time I read Anne’s diary was more than 20 years ago, and I forgot how wonderful Anne is at describing the people in the Annexe and observing life within and without. It’s truly magical to rediscover one of my childhood favourites through my daughter’s eyes. DD has innocence & curiosity in spades, and is a budding writer with a strong voice of her own. She loves dissecting characters, understanding their motivations and challenges. We swept through several diary entries fairly quickly, until Anne starts describing the forced marches through the streets of Jews being deported to Westerbork. “Why, mummy, why?”

Damn you, books! How do I explain to my 9-year-old that this genocide was based on abstract, non-pragmatic ideology—which was then executed by very rational, pragmatic means? How do I explain how decent human beings had to subvert their goodness, their humanity, to keep their own loved ones safe from the Nazi machine? How do I explain the desperation, the pack mentality? While I’m mulling this over, trying to find the right words, she says, “You think I could watch Annie till you figure out an age-appropriate answer?”

YES! Let’s watch Annie. And give husband a heads up that he might be in for an interesting discussion over dinner.

Vapid, fifty shades of…

That’s what it should have been called. Some of you know my friend A-S passed me the book a week ago. We swap books a lot, but she did warn me this one might be a challenge. You see, I LIKE words and I LOVE books. All kinds of books. Romance novels, graphic novels, textbooks, manuals (yes, I always read them). I even love books in languages I can’t read yet. And now blogs. If I’m following you and commenting, I like your style. I like your words. Your words make me happy.

SPOILER ALERT! Scathing Review of Fifty Shades of Grey to follow…

I do NOT like EL James’ words. She has taken perfectly good words and turned them to mush. Drivel. She has scaled the heights of vapidity and won. I tried, dear reader, I tried. But gave up halfway through, because I wasn’t convinced it was going to get any better. The characters are unbelievable. The settings are odd and two-dimensional. And what *bleeps* me off the MOST is the fact that I seriously doubt she has been to the good old US of A, let alone Washington State. Her syntax and language are all off. Perhaps it’s my curse, being an expat, that I am especially sensitive to cadence, rhythm and the unique oddities that differentiate English across the globe. A doona in Australia is a comforter in America is a duvet in the UK. See? So why couldn’t she master these little details? I can’t believe she wrote two more. And there are movies! Eek. I’ll stop here because I think I’ve made my point. 

For a book to be good, it has to be real. I have to believe the characters, to love them, hate them, want to engage with them. So here are my recommendations for great alternatives to Fifty Shades: if you’re looking for a good sex scene, might I recommend Rhonda Nelson or Maya Rodale? If you want to feel intellectual about it, get Lady Chatterley’s Lover. If you want to read something truly erotic, try Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s book, Venus in Furs, first published in 1870. It was a pioneering achievement – exposing the world to female domination and SM activities and giving us, via his name, the term ‘masochism’.

And now I’m off to finish The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide by Clara Wiggins, fellow blogger at ExpatPartnerSurvival.com, and one who knows what to do with words.

The Lemon Grove

Although this book was intended for the impending holiday, I devoured The Lemon Grove in one sitting. I’m a sucker for a pretty cover and then I thought I would just read the first chapter. And then maybe one more. And before I knew it, I had ploughed through the entire book. There was nothing else for it. Helen managed to draw me in to Jenn’s holiday in the little Mallorcan village: I could feel the heat in my bones, hear the crickets, smell the dust. She has explored the tricky subjects of identity, family, ageing and the lure of the forbidden with an artist’s hand. I felt like I was the fly on the wall, or a voyeur, seeing the story unfold first-hand in all its conflict. Pure magic! Well, unless you were one of the characters. And that’s all I’m going to say.

“She eats hungrily, without restraint or embarrassment. The starchy inner flesh of the pastries has cooled and solidified, smearing her fingers in orange grease. The explosion of flavours, one after another – spinach and anchovies and olive oil – is good, each mouthful restoring her. The thunder rumbles again, closer, directly above them … The air is fat and tight.”

Since I’m done with this one, have you got any recommendations I must read?

Estranged (A-Z)

Having become a stranger, of one who formerly was close, as a relative, friend, lover, or spouse

I was faffing about with my Kindle Unlimited searches, trying to find something new to read (one of my goals for 2015). The beauty of paying a flat fee per month for any number of books is liberating, because if the book is rubbish, I can just return it. I found this single and was drawn in by the cover; I read the blurb and was hooked. Reading Estranged blew me away. It’s a first-person account of growing up in a middle class family in a middle class town, except Jessica Berger Gross also endured verbal & physical violence at home, which she kept a secret for years.

“…at the age of 28, she realized that her family was so broken it couldn’t be put back together, and so she irrevocably cut ties with her mother and father. As she soon learned, however, such a choice could not be made without calling into question her own essential goodness and morality.”

I love how she explores these ideas of goodness and morality in various ways, and how she tries to make sense of, and peace with, the choices she makes. It’s an interesting topic I’ve seen crop up in one shape or another across various blog posts & comment feeds recently, but I don’t think any of us have taken the steps Jess took. Without giving too much away, the last part, where she’s exploring the morality and consequences of her choices, really hit home for me.

If you’re looking for a quick read, Estranged is £1.49 on Amazon UK, $2.21 Amazon.com or $3.16 on Amazon Canada.

Coffee Craic

Craic: Irish word for fun/enjoyment that has been brought into the English language

I working from coffee shops. I’m addicted to coffee. And WiFi. My wonderful friend, Beth, sent me a link to Chris Ward’s London coffee map last year and I’ve tried to work my way through it (all in the name of research), in case a random tourist should stop me to ask if I know where they can get good coffee.

And while I was working my way through it, he has updated the coffee Tube map for 2015 and rolled out his latest offering…

Grounded contains everything overheard, read, seen or tweeted in a coffee shop that will help you rediscover the important things in life. It contains the wisdom of the biggest names, smartest thinkers and… a hundred coffee shop blackboards!

Available on Amazon & at these cafes & stores.

<- I have recently added this book to my wish list (it’s my birthday in a few months!). I’ve been told it’s ‘a global guide to the magic beans’. With rich photographs & informative text, it’s a great gift for a coffee-lover. Could you please tell my husband it’s available from Amazon or Book Depository, and available for my Kindle, too? 

And if you catch yourself looking around in a coffee shop, and wondering about the people around you, perhaps Spilling the Beans is for you! 

Only on Kindle at present, with the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity benefiting from the sales of this anthology.

And now since it’s a day ending in Y, I’m off to worship the bean!