Saturday, July 3, 2010

Soul Food Recommendations

 I spent 25 years in Santa Barbara and one of my favorite sights was the long line of brown pelicans skimming gracefully just above the water.  I loved watching that elegant, seemingly effortless flight and it was easy to feel my way into that gently undulating column.  What I seldom thought about as I watched that low gliding motion was the fish swimming beneath the surface.  The pelicans were looking for breakfast.  I never really even contemplated what it must be like to be the fish ... the target of that predatory flight.  And, I definitely never felt my way into the consciousness of the fish ... they were just invisible.

In the past 50-some-odd hours of driving to Tulsa and back, I've listened to three books on tape, an activity that is almost like time-travel since the stories carried me through the hours almost in a fugue state, autonomic half on the road while my consciousness explored other realms.  Of the three books, one was good, one was excellent, and one was an unforgettable experience. 

The first was Fever Dream, the latest in the on-going series by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child.  An adventure mystery featuring the brilliantly quirky Aloysius Pendergast who discovers that the tragic mauling of his wife by a rogue lion in Africa was actually murder.  This series is always entertaining and the reading with the Louisiana accents is very good.

The second was the last in the Stieg Larsson series, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.  This excellent book was bitter-sweet because the author died before the series was published so we will no longer hear the voice of this master storyteller and no longer tag along on the unique journey of Lisbeth Salander.  His books have sold over 20 million copies and in 2008, four years after his death, he was the second best selling author.  A passionate fighter against racism and right-wing extremism, Larsson will continue to be missed.  The readers in this series are very good so I highly recommend the book in either written or audio format.

The last book was truly incredible. Kathryn Stockett's The Help, is a book I avoided buying for quite some time, dismissing it as "just another book about the civil rights movement," a subject I thought I'd already read enough about.  This book is like the story of the pelican and the fish.  Set in Mississippi in the early 60s, it is the story of black maids and the white women they work for.  It's a story of a time and culture that is aware of the pelicans but has no consciousness of the fish or the interdependent cycle of life between the two.  It is a gripping story of fear and love, ignorance and wisdom, cruelty and grace, tears and laughter and a time, not so long ago, just as change was bubbling over in a way that would transform everything. 

It was amazing to remember that less than 50 years ago, if a woman in that culture married a professional man, she was expected to fill her time with volunteering and bridge and have a maid take care of her house and her children.  This dynamic created a field of intimacy that sometimes took root in a powerful, lasting love and sometimes spawned a confused and cruelly hostile and fearful environment.  This book expertly and gently balances both sides of this continuum.

While I would highly recommend reading this book, I think listening to it is an experience not to be missed.  The reading is exceptional.

About the image:  I was passing through a hotel restaurant when I saw this image.  It amazed me with its "stop when you're satisfied" message.  My awareness jar asks me if I could have stopped in the midst of this beauty.  Thank you to the person who left this lesson for me.

1 comment:

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your posts about these books. There's been a lot of attention on Larsson's trilogy; I don't recall reading about the other two. I'm certainly going to add the last to my ever-growing booklist.