Madam Secretary: A book that is more than 500 pages

It took a while to read it but I finished Madeleine Albright’s memoir 20 years, to the day, after Madeleine K. Albright was sworn in as the first female Secretary of State–what a day to finish this book! A great read for anyone interested in foreign affairs or #WomenWhoLead!

“Women have to be active listeners and interrupters – but when you interrupt, you have to know what you are talking about.”

“I was taught to strive not because there were any guarantees of success but because the act of striving is in itself the only way to keep faith with life.”

What an accomplished life and this is a woman who was a two time refugee! She is my hero. It makes me want to name my daughter Madeleine.

 

Samantha, Daughter

14/20

 

Orphan Train: An international bestseller

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Reading Orphan Train on the train.

This is not a book I would normally read. It was heartbreaking to the nth degree, but my gosh, it was a good book! My book club is discussing it next week and it wasn’t until after I finished it that I tried to fit it into our Mother-Daughter Reading Challenge criteria. It’s not just an international bestseller (#6) but a No.1 international bestseller, among other accolades:

  • Bestseller on all the national lists in the U.S.
  • Top 5 of the New York Times Trade Fiction bestseller list for over a year
  • Foreign rights have been sold in more than 30 countries
  • More than 2 million copies in print
  • Became a #1 international bestseller

This weekend Rob and I went to the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side, which felt like a field trip to inform the reading of this book. The Tenement Museum is located at 97 Orchard Street, not far from the Elizabeth Street tenements, where our protagonist lived before taking the orphan train to the Midwest. We attended the Irish Outsiders experience, which fit well with the Irish heritage of the Orphan Train protagonist (not to mention echoing the experiences of the Irish immigrants in Brooklyn and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn). In fact, downstairs at the Tenement Museum they had many books for sale including Orphan Train, Brooklyn, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, among many other of my recent reads.

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Reading Orphan Train while waiting for our tour on the stairs of 97 Orchard St, which head up into one of the Tenement Museum’s tours. Book your tour early, multiple tours actually sell out every hour! We had to wait about 2 hours for Irish Outsiders and we got the last two tickets for that tour.

The Tenement Museum was created in the most interesting way. “A historian and social activist, Ruth Abram wanted to build a museum that honored America’s immigrants. New York’s tenements were the perfect place for her museum: these humble, multiple family buildings were the first American homes for thousands of immigrants. But the search for a tenement proved frustrating. By 1988, Abram and co-founder Anita Jacobson were nearly ready to give up. Then they stumbled upon the tenement at 97 Orchard Street.”

When NYC regulations for tenements became more stringent the owner of the building evicted the current tenants and kept the building for the commercial space downstairs alone. When Abram and Jacobsen discovered this time capsule they transformed it into the museum and could you get anything more authentic? Locked up and preserved for about 50 years, exploring these tenements is like going back in time. It brought to life the storyscapes of all these immigrant stories I’ve read (and am yet to read).

The experience of reading Orphan Train and exploring the Irish Outsiders segment of the Tenement Museum blend together into a single sadness. Though I was literally sobbing last night as I tried to tell Rob about Orphan Train and earlier in the evening he tried to confiscate the book as I cried my way through the pages, I’m still very glad to have read it. It was a good book. It was sad, but it was strong. It was a story of resilience and perspective, of love and loss, of the things we lose and the things we keep, the people (good and bad) who affect us, and most of all, the way everything comes full circle in the end.

Samantha, Daughter

5/20

A Secret Kept by Tatiana De Rosnay #8

I’m not sure why this book got such bad reviews. Maybe people were comparing it to one of her other books (Sarah’s Key) which was a New York Times bestseller. I enjoyed the book. The secret was unexpected.

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty #13

This book is about a woman who finds a letter that her husband has written her that is supposed to be opened after his death. She reads it while he is still very much alive and discovers a horrible secret.  The secret changes their lives for ever.

I really liked this book. It was a page turner, although I would have liked a different ending.

The Handmaid’s Tale: A New York Times bestseller

To Pete, For all that is meant to be. xo Doris” — that is the inscription inside the cover of this book. I glazed over it when I started reading but once I finished it I was plagued by the meaning hidden-in-plain-sight in that simple inscription. Is Pete her Commander, a loveless pairing? Her Luke, her love that she was torn away from by circumstance? Was he her Nick? Did he sacrifice their relationship so that she might have a real life?

The inscription was as powerful as a mini-book club. I think I bought this book at a library book sale at Alderney Landing, so Doris of the Greater Halifax Area (or Pete, who got rid of the thoughtfully selected book), what did you mean? I need to know.

This book is my New York Times bestseller, but it was so, so much more. To name a few literary awards, this vintage Margaret Atwood received:

And it’s been challenged on high school reading lists from past to present. I don’t blame concerned parents in a way. It is very violent, sexually explicit, and the suicidal tendencies cannot be a positive influence. Nevertheless, exposing young readers to that kind of mind-widening perspective and challenging high schoolers to really think about society and gender inequality is a pretty powerful message.

The Atlantic wrote about this book in March 2015. Yes, 2015, roughly three decades after this novel debuted. The article marveled at how even now we’re not quite ready for such a radical work. Radical is a good word for it. It was mind-blowing to consider that dystopian reality. I don’t even like dystopian fiction and I was fascinated by The Handmaid’s Tale. When they were casting the movie in the late eighties they struggled to secure an actress for the main character, or so I read in the aforementioned Atlantic article, because “many actresses feared the stigma of being associated with such an explicitly feminist work” (The Atlantic, 2015)

Now, how in the world will I find this 1990 movie with it’s inappropriately racy cover? (Promising me that Atwood’s powerful message will be watered down to the very thing that’s keeping The Handmaid’s Tale out of schools.)

Samantha, Daughter

13/20

Dark Places: A book that scares you

Somewhere in the wee morning hours between one and two A.M., I finished reading Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. About an hour after that my heart stopped pounding and my mind stopped racing and I finally got to sleep. My ideal bedtime is ten o’clock, so it was a strange night for me. This strange book was utterly un-put-down-able!

When I began reading it I wasn’t sure what criteria it would satisfy in our reading list. Dark Places is a New York Times bestseller (#13), a book set around Christmas, if not exactly on Christmas day or with a deliberate Christmas theme (#5), and the movie rights have been sold so it has some crossover with #10 as well. At the outset, it is truly #19, a book that scares you. Though it was over 300 pages it could have almost been a book you can read in one day (#6) because I cruised through nearly 200 pages yesterday alone. The only thing that curbed my reading was when Rob went away for the night because this was not something I wanted to read home alone. Like my rule to stop watching Criminal Minds after three in the afternoon if no one else is there, I also decided not to read Dark Places home alone while the dark places crept up around me. That was the only thing to deter my non-stop journey through this book.

There were four distinct stages to my reading of Dark Places:

Stage One – The Slow Burn

As I started the novel, I didn’t really like or care about the characters. It seemed moderately predictable. The writing was engaging and the realistic little details Flynn added kept me going but I didn’t really care in those first few chapters. This seems to be a pattern in Flynn’s plots though. She starts slow and crescendos to the non-stop twists and turns that make you unable to put her books down.

Stage Two – Unraveling

As the plot began unraveling and the mystery opening up like a blooming flower, I was entranced in the disturbingly delightful way Flynn always sucks me into her novels.

Stage Three – Just Be Over

There was a point somewhere around page 170 when I just wanted it to be over. I was too anxious about the whole story and I needed to know what happened on January 2nd, 1985 at that farmhouse in Kansas. I was actually panicking as I read it. My palms were sweating, my stomach was churning, I went through more stress reading this book than I ever do in my day-to-day life.

Stage Four – Sprint

There were probably seventy pages left when I began sprinting through the remainder of the book like it was the final ten pages. If this book were a marathon I would have started sprinting to the finish line far too early and passed out before I got there.

November 2014-Jan 2015 917I can’t think of anyone to compare Flynn to but herself. I think in comparison to her other novels this was her best. I never thought she could write something better than Gone Girl but Dark Places may be the best. (I’m too close to the situation to decide definitively yet).

There were little rivers of consistency reoccurring in her otherwise completely original plots: the vomit mantra of “getting it all up” and “getting all that bad stuff out” (Sharp Objects, Dark Places), the posters of missing people (Sharp Objects, Dark Places, Gone Girl), the love of bourbon (Sharp Objects, Gone Girl), and the “reformed” man vowing to commit the rest of his life to making it up to the female protagonist, or antagonist as it were (Dark Places, Gone Girl). I might not have noticed the consistencies if I hadn’t completed the Gillian Flynn hat trick in quick succession.

Thanks for the Christmas gift, Mom. No box set of books has brought me more excitement.

2/20

Samantha, Daughter