Sunday, June 28, 2015

Rain: A Natural and Cultural History (Cynthia Barnett)

Rain: A Natural and Cultural History is a journey of the human experience with regards to nature's single biggest fuel for this planet.  Cynthia Barnett's book takes us through an epochs-long journey of how rain shapes, makes, breaks, and changes our world.  She also focuses on how changing patterns in rain, whether influenced by man or other forces, can change societies as well.

Our experiences with rain, whether too much or a lack thereof, has shaped a large amount of our literary and cultural experiences.  Books like Grapes of Wrath are devoted to the experiences many endured in migrating from the Plains to California in the Dust Bowl era.  Musicians and musical genres have been influenced in large part by climate and rainfall; Barnett discusses the influences of gloomy climates in Seattle and Manchester on the music of New Order, the Smiths, and the Seattle rock scene. In many respects, Barnett artfully weaves through all of the ways that rain shapes our society beyond the mere agricultural and societal impacts on life and property.  Rain shapes the emotional and economic experiences many have.  Barnett also devotes a significant amount of coverage to our own understanding of predicting rain patterns and our attempts to manipulate them, from loud explosions in West Texas in the late 19th century to silver iodide experiments in hurricanes in the 1950s and 1960s.

The author effectively tells the story of how rain is an equal opportunity employer, destroyer, enabler, and disabler combined with being a part of everyone's dialogue regardless of economic standing of location.  We're all impacted by what falls or does not fall from the sky and how too much or too little can change all of our lives.  Barnett devotes some coverage to our changing climate's impact on rain patterns, which is important to note regardless of views of man's influence on the climate.  Rain will continue to have an impact on us going forward and, Barnett argues, will shape our stories, successes, and failures in the generations to come.


Monday, June 8, 2015

The Rumor (Elin Hilderbrand)

I always look forward to Elin Hilderbrand’s new books with great anticipation. Her novels are what I like to call “smart chick lit” and are always set in Nantucket; she writes about life on this island so beautifully that she makes me want to book a one-way trip there.

The Rumor, her latest novel but definitely not her best, kept me turning the pages, but for the most part, I found it filled with clichéd characters doing despicable things. This is the story of two families whose wives, Madeline and Grace, are best friends. Madeline is a prominent author who is suffering from a lingering case of writer’s block, and Grace is a wealthy gardening connoisseur who falls hard for her landscaper. Eddie, a prominent seller of real estate on the island, is Grace’s husband who finds himself in financial turmoil. He seems to be a big believer in desperate times call for desperate measures. And of course to connect the families even more, Madeline’s teenage son Brick and Grace’s daughter Allegra are dating in soap-opera fashion.

Calling The Rumor a soap opera is not a case of overstating anything. With the exception of one or two, the characters are hard to care about, especially since they’re always feeling so sorry for themselves. Not Hilderbrand’s best by any means.


Sunday, June 7, 2015

Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own (Kate Bolick)

No matter what generation a child is in, there are certain expectations that are in existence even to this day.  One of those expectations is eventually settling down in some type of relationship, with relationship being the key word.  It's never really discussed that some people might want (and enjoy) being on their own as an individual, without the joint decisions that have to be made and, some would say, tie-downs, that occur as part of a pair.

I don't know what I was expecting when I picked up Kate Bolick's Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own.  But what I got, was part history lesson, part memoir of Bolick's life and spinster "muses" (some of whom weren't even spinsters). Of course, almost everyone has heard of Edna St. Vincent Millay and Edith Wharton, but I have to say, it was interesting to also read about some women I've never even hard of -- Neith Boyce, Maeve Brennan, and the like.

What I did not like at all about Spinster was the high degree of disorganization. Things seemed to be all over the place, like "Oh, we're reading about her again."  The topic Bolick wrote about is an interesting one, and I was hoping to get more documented research about truly wanting and enjoying being alone.  Instead, this book was all over the place, and I just didn't get what Bolick's ultimate goal was.