Monday, March 25, 2019

Book Review: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson - A Travel Memoir

Hiking the Appalachian Trail is hard. And that is the verdict by Bill Bryson, the author of A Walk in the Woods.

The narrative commences with Bryson’s curiosity of hiking this Trail and then getting ready to do the hike. After purchasing all the necessary equipment he proceeds to call a number of friends and acquaintances who would be willing to accompany him; he gets one volunteer from Iowa, Stephen Katz whom he has not seen or heard from in quite a while. Even though Katz is a recovering alcoholic, Bryson accepts him as his companion on this hiking trip. The Trail is approximately 2,000 miles or 3,500 km spreading from Georgia to Maine with a wide range of magnificent mountains, hills, streams, lakes and stunning views. 

While on the trail, Bryson takes the lead and soon discovers that Katz is unable to keep pace with him and moves forward, all the while, keeping an eye back on his companion. When they meet, Katz, who is overweight, is puffing, out of breath, cursing and defiantly tells Bryson that he had to ditch most of what he packed. And thus, the hike continues. Bryson recounts hilarious anecdotes of interactions with people they meet, share resting time or nights in the shelters. It becomes more and more difficult to conquer walking this Trail. They skip a great part of the Trail and take a ride to Roanoke, Virginia for a more pleasant or easier walk in these woods. After covering 800 miles or 1,300km they stop as each returns home. 

Throughout Bryson infuses humour, along with in depth descriptions of its history, the health of the woods and how this Trail has evolved over time. A Walk in the Woods is a travel memoir that captures the reader’s imagination and educates in an interesting, entertaining manner.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Book Review: The Secretary by Kim Ghattas - Non-fiction

Kim Ghattas, a BBC journalist, travelled with Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, on her diplomatic trips to the Middle East and Pakistan.  Ghattas describes the nuances of travelling with the Secretary.  Also, she captures the "behind the scenes" scenarios of each trip, the endless hours of travel and sometimes with very little rest or sleep in between these trips.

Ghattas, who was born and raised in Lebanon, describes the two sides of the coin, i.e. her thoughts of America while living in Lebanon and then compares it to what she is experiencing, as a BBC journalist, through a very different lens. She is able to witness and analyze the difficulties of being a superpower that tries to keep all countries on an even keel.

The author includes historical facts of the countries visited on this diplomacy journey. It brings a very good perspective of what America is trying to achieve in each of these countries. The reader gets a great view of how Hillary performs and her willingness to meet and spend time with the people in each of these countries.  It becomes an awe-inspiring reflection of this author's journey with the Secretary.

On a personal note, The Secretary is a page turner. Ghattas has a compelling style of writing with a genuine goal of describing the realities of the challenges that America faces in its foreign policy development and delivery.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Book Review: Unbowed: A Memoir by Wangari Maathai

Unbowed: A Memoir by Wangari Maathai is an extraordinary life story that takes the reader from Maathai’s childhood in rural Kenya to being a Nobel Laureate. Her continual optimism is evident throughout; whether she is walking through open doors of opportunities or confronting umpteen stumbling blocks. She persists and focuses on her goals. Her indomitable spirit rings through every action she takes to achieve her goals.

Maathai’s quest to save Kenya’s green space, by planting one tree at a time, led to her founding the Green Belt Movement. She empowers women to become active and create groups that would plant trees in their neighbourhoods. She becomes involved in the political arena, and against all odds strives to restore democracy in Kenya. Despite the prevailing issues as described by Mathaai, Kenya is a democratic country with timely elections.

In a stoic and graceful manner, she withstands the many challenges, some of a violent nature, from the Kenyan Government and persists in her raison d’etre to ensure the greenery of Kenya, equality for women, and good governance in Kenya.

Unbowed: A Memoir is a captivating life story from which many lessons can be learned, including the power of perseverance in order to achieve one’s goals and having the passion to make a dream a reality. Maathai illustrates how she did it. It is an excellent read.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Book Review: Intellectual Memoirs by Mary McCarthy - Non-fiction

The following review is sourced from KIRKUS REVIEW:

                                  https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/mary-mccarthy/intellectual-memoirs/

For all its final aborted promise, this slender sequel to How I Grew (1987), left unfinished at McCarthy's death in 1989, vibrates with the wicked wit and moral astringency that made the author a giant of American belles-lettres. If How I Grew covered the birth of her intellectual consciousness, this volume details the birth of McCarthy's career as a writer--practicing her craft as a twentysomething, Waspish book and theater critic at Partisan Review while accumulating the experience that would nourish her later career and quarrels (including her decisive break with Stalinism and the sequel encounter that inspired ``The Man in the Brooks Brothers Suit''). In her fond introduction, friend Elizabeth Hardwick traces McCarthy's tactile re-creation of time, place, and character to her ``somewhat obsessional concern for the integrity of sheer fact in matters both trivial and striking.'' The result, when combined with her familiar mockery of phonies and poseurs, is explosive laughter. Witness incidents about Corliss Lamont, a ``pawky freckled swain'' who unsuccessfully attempted to seduce her; and about a rival for her first husband's affections, ``a yellow-eyed lynxlike blonde given to stretching herself like the cats she fancied.'' Equally incapable of lying about herself--``self-deception always chilled me''--McCarthy recounts how she wrote a politically correct review for fellow-traveler Malcolm Cowley at The New Republic, drunkenly sat on Max Eastman's lap at a party, and slept with three different men within 24 hours. Most of all, she ruefully recalls how badly she hurt her lover, Partisan Review editor Philip Rahv, by embarking on an affair with, and later disastrous marriage to, Edmund Wilson. A small gem, viewing an era of deep political and personal engagement with no tears and a brave heart.
My Comments: It was an unusual, yet interesting narrative which depicts Mary McCarthy's lifestyle and her career as a writer.  It illustrates bold and transparent sentiments of how she feels and lives in New York from 1936 - 1938.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Book Review: The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway - Short Story

The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway is a story about a couple, Harry and Helen, who escape from the lifestyle of the rich and famous in Paris to a hunting adventure near Mount Kilimanjaro. At around twenty thousand feet, and snow-capped this is the highest mountain in Africa. The Masai, the local tribe, call it the House of God.

Harry is seriously ill, coping with gangrene festering in his leg. He was pricked by a thorn and did not treat it promptly. Now he lies in a cot awaiting death. Helen loves him dearly and comforts him as much as she can. They cannot go anywhere as their truck has broken down and thus their next option to await a plane to take them to a hospital.

In moments of unconsciousness, evident throughout the story, Harry muses about his lifestyle as a writer. He has not done enough and appears distracted by his involvement with rich women and they are boring to him. The conversations between Harry and Helen reveal her love for him and his dislike for her. He lies in the cot claiming that he will die from the gangrene. Towards the end of the story, Harry is dreaming of a plane taking him away to a hospital. But the ending is different.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro depicts reflections by a writer on his lifestyle and his incomplete life as a writer. It is a sad story.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Book Review: Where You Belong by Barbara Taylor Bradford - Fiction

Barbara Taylor Bradford in her novel, Where You Belong captures the war time horrors through the lens of three photojournalists—American, Valentine (Val)Denning, British, Tony Hampton and American Jake Newburg. They are on the frontlines in Kosovo where they are in the midst of a shooting mayhem. The three of them are taken down; they wake up in a hospital in Belgrade only to find out that Tony died. Val was devastated as he was her lover. Gradually Tony’s character is unraveled, beginning at his funeral.

Severely injured, Val and Jake recuperate in Paris, their home office. They cope with uncovering the true nature of Tony and its impact on Val particularly. She struggles to find her place in the world. With support from her colleagues and Jake she engages in reflective awareness. In between, her brother contacts her with a request to come back to New York City to visit with her ailing mother. This brings intrigue and a new kind of dynamic to the story as the author delves into Val’s relationship with her mother and her family.

Ultimately, the author deftly illustrates the strength and determination of Val Denning to find her special place in the world. Where You Belong is an interesting read with many twists and turns in the story.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Book Review: New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton - Non-fiction

In New Seeds of Contemplation, the author Thomas Merton takes the reader on a journey of discovery. At the beginning Merton explains contemplation and then delves into what contemplation is not. Thus, the reader becomes aware of the spiritual aspect of learning about the connections between the mind and the soul that leads to how we behave and act.

This kind of portrayal illustrates a type of philosophical and spiritual analysis that could become a prescription for the reader to follow. There are persuasive elements of how a person can become meditative, more aware and experience the joy of solitude and how to be alone. Merton espouses the merits very aptly.

The philosophical trends are evident when Merton delves into the moral theology of the devil that further culminates to identifying the root of war as fear and that hell is hatred.

Merton subtly brings in the religious aspect by defining faith that leads to the illustration of the conceptual movement from faith to wisdom and then outlining the mystery of Christ that leads to the life of Christ.

The mix of philosophy and spirituality is engaging; it allows for many pauses for thought and further questioning as the reader examines the nuances of how to practice contemplation.

New Seeds of Contemplation is a beautiful read that opens the mind, heart and soul to a strengthened way of living.