What I’m Reading: January

The big chill has kept me indoors and so I’ve been able to read more than usual. I finished A Lesson Before Dying, and really enjoyed The Dry Grass of August, which reminded me of The Help ( Kathryn Stockett) but came to a more shocking conclusion. Set in 1954, Jubie Watts is on a family vacation with their black maid when their car breaks down in Georgia. The story is told through the eyes of a very perceptive twelve -year-old and it is a very compelling story! I recommend this book.

drygrass

Handmaid

I found E.L. Doctorow’s World’s Fair at the back of my bookshelf. Although this book was not one of his listed in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, I decided to read it anyway as I’ve never read any of Doctorow’s books. This was an interesting tale  of growing up in the Bronx in the 1930’s. We follow the life of a boy named Edgar from an infant to a pre-teen, climaxing with his family’s visit to the 1939 World’s Fair. We witness the disintegration of his parents’ relationship and the economic troubles of his father’s business. But most of his time is spent building model airplanes from balsa wood, listening to radio dramas or playing Zorro with his friend Bertram. It was a good read but the ending just tapers off leaving us wondering what happened to Edgar after that.

world'sfair

I also got The Handmaid’s Tale at a book sale when I was visiting the U.S. I finally got around to reading this. I’m not a Sci-Fi person but this book is described as a “cautionary tale” rather than fantasy. I did wonder, while reading, how the writer knew back in 1986 what would happen in the future. She must have cleverly read the signs of the times because, like Huxley’s “A Brave New World” , it is scary how much of this we already see happening. Did she know about the Fukushima nuclear accident in advance? Even the name of “National Homeland“, a sort of internment camp in South Dakota where people from the decimated city of Detroit are resettled and re-educated, has sinister undertones in my mind. (Although I love my country, the word “homeland” has come to sound like a fascist word to me.)

At the end of last year, I read Octavia E. Butler’s The Parable of the Sower. We can draw a parallel between these two books. Both portray a police society in post-modern America where our freedom and our very lives are at risk. In both books, the protagonist is trying to escape north  to Canada. I actually didn’t get Butler’s book. It is set in an America spoiled by global warming, pollution and violence, where everyone seems to have guns. People are fighting over food and to protect their families.

sower.butler

Sixteen-year-old Lauren loses her family and is running for her life with whomever she hooks up with on the way. As she goes, she writes down her thoughts on building  a new way of life. She calls her philosophy Earthseed.  But, to me, this dream of a post-Apocalypse society did not succeed in giving  the book a positive outlook.

The Handmaid’s Tale is really scary when you think something like this could happen overnight if the wrong people took control of our government. This new regime uses the Old Testament to justify many of its macabre practices. Due to pollution and nuclear accidents,  most women have become infertile. So the handmaid’s duty is as a surrogate womb to the elite but childless couples in the new society. One of the most chilling scenes is when all women are suddenly let go from their jobs, and their bank accounts and credit cards transferred to a male relative. They can no longer even purchase a pack of cigarettes. From then on, things only get worse. It becomes illegal to teach women to read. Barren women are sent to “the colonies’ to clean up nuclear waste. Public executions, or “salvagings” are regularly held.

It would be interesting to have a group discussion of this book. I suspect women and men might view it differently. This book was on the course list for “Politics in Film and Fiction” at Indiana University some years ago and that is why I bought it. As I said, it’s a good book for discussion. I’m sure you’d get a lot of divergent opinions.

See my book blog book-klatsch.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sarah S (@SarahReads2Much)
    Jan 19, 2013 @ 13:14:17

    I LOVED A Handmaid’s Tale. Just LOVED it…. it has been a long time since I read it though, and really should reread it. I have also read and enjoyed Cat’s Eye and The Blind Assassin by Atwood.

    Reply

    • leahmama1
      Feb 02, 2013 @ 08:22:42

      I don’t know much about blogging but I am into yours and enjoying the Read the Classics Challenge so much! Thanks again for spurring me on!!

      Reply

  2. A. J.
    Feb 02, 2013 @ 02:50:29

    Leah, thank you so much for your lovely recommendation of my novel…I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you’re in Japan, reading my book. I live across the street from a couple who has become our best friends; their son is applying for a job in Japan teaching English (he’s fluent in Japanese). I have my fingers crossed for him, and have sent him the link to your blog so he can read more about life there. I don’t know where (what city) he’ll be. My best to you.

    A. J. Mayhew, Hillsborough, NC

    Reply

    • leahmama1
      Feb 02, 2013 @ 08:21:20

      Wow! I have never spoken to a published author before. What an honor to get your comment. It was a wonderful book. It is hard to find out about English language books here in Japan. I’ve been here 40 years and am so thankful that amazon now does free shipping! Maybe your friends son will visit our farm when he is in Japan someday! It’s not real modern but we have put up visitors from Spain, Philippines and of course the U.S.

      Reply

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