Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Mount TBR Checkpoint #1

I'm delighted to report that I've read 8 of the 12 books I committed to read for this challenge! The way life's been for me lately, that amounts to a breakneck pace up Pike's Peak, the lowest mountain. I'm already 2/3 of the way up in roughly the first third of the year. Here's hoping I don't fade like a sprinter when the last dash comes around.

One of the best things about my list (besides the pleasure of clearing out some books that have been hanging around a long time) has been the variety: four novels, a short story collection, a sports essays collection, an academic-ish memoir, and a nature essays collection. And that's pretty much what I'm interested in reading -- in a nutshell.

The other checkpoint task I've chosen from the menu is to post a picture of my favorite cover so far. Given the variety of reading material, this is comparing apples to oranges to monkeys to skinks. However, I think I have to pick this one:

There's just something about it. The others -- when I revisited them -- all had some flaw that made them slightly miss the mark for me. One was too classical for an essentially modern story. One was lovely but had little to do with the contents inside. One seemed to represent a character in the novel, but her hairdo was completely wrong. And so on. That leaves this as the winner. I like the woodblock effect and the prominence of the title. I looked at it a number of times before I noticed Chairman Mao, which adds to the charm.

Onward and upward! I'll reach the peak of that mountain yet!

Monday, April 16, 2018

On Impulse

I belong to a kayaking Facebook group. There are tens of thousands of members all over the world, including one cheery fellow in Australia who's convinced that he and I are cousins because we share the same last name. (Now he has me convinced, too, based on nothing more than his habit of greeting me by saying, "Hi, cuz!")

Anyway, for a Facebook group, we are quite well-behaved. The admins strongly enforce the posting rules, and we DO NOT DISCUSS the two topics we're unable to discuss without getting into arguments: wearing/not wearing a PFD (life jacket) and whether sit-on-top kayaks are/are not superior to sit-inside kayaks. Do not think I'm going to discuss those things here, either. It just leads to fights.

Sooo . . . we're quite the happy community, helpful to each other and chock-full of gorgeous pictures, enough gorgeous pictures that our paddling locations bucket list will never be emptied.

Now that you have the flavor of the group, you'll understand why we all rose to the challenge when one of us asked where she should go paddling in Central Florida while she's here on vacation. Lots of people posted pictures and made recommendations. Here's the picture I posted for her.

She replied that she'd checked it out, but there were no guided tours on the days she's available and she didn't want to paddle alone. Now, I bet she could totally paddle this alone unless she's a complete novice -- it's calm water, there's only a slight current, and the gators are generally placid. But I have to respect her safety concerns. So I did the obvious thing: I offered to go with her.

This may prove to be the easiest favor I've ever done for anyone!   

Friday, April 13, 2018

Better, in a Terrible Way

It must have been truly awful to be a woman in China in the 1970's -- and certainly before and probably after, as well. In Three Sisters, Bi Feiyu traces the lives of three young women as they grow up in a family of eight and strive to balance the traditional demands and challenges of Chinese society with the requirements of political correctness.

To say that what they face are "demands" and "challenges" vastly understates what they must undergo, just as "political correctness" fails to do justice to the intricacies of modern China's doctrinal requirements.

Yumi, the eldest sister, assumes the role of family matriarch early, while tasked with caring for the baby boy her parents finally succeeded in having after seven tries. Mature beyond her years, Yumi must cope with her father's blatant philandering, her mother's passivity (or perhaps exhaustion), her wayward sisters, and her own desire to chart her life by making a successful marital match from the introduction period arranged for her with a military pilot. Though thwarted at every turn, Yumi still  manages to progress . . . but not to escape the damage done to her personality and values by the cultural system she's born into.

Yuxiu, the third sister, is beautiful, flirtatious, and a little bit wild, in stark contrast to the sober and responsible Yumi. Her life's prospects are derailed by a gang rape and subsequent unmarried pregnancy -- two events that spell social and emotional doom in a society that prides itself on equality, modernity, and political purity of intention, but still operates with many of the traditional beliefs that devalue women and consider them property.

Youngest sister Yuyang is a strong student, poised to succeed without drawing much attention to herself. But again, the potent combination of sexual dominion and political intrigue provides the means to complicate her life and challenge her emotional health. Yuyang is chosen as an informer against her classmates, but that role brings her dangerously close to her teacher, who takes advantage of her innocence. She survives, perhaps with less damage than her sisters, but will never be the same.

This novel drew me into the lives of the sisters and offered insight into the workings of modern China. It is terrible to observe the toll the patriarchal system takes on these young women, particularly in light of the official pronouncements for correct, respectful behavior that are included from time to time. What irony! The pronouncements of the new political structure do nothing to change the age-old patterns of human behavior -- they merely form a veneer that conceals the devastating workings of the old order.


Before she left home, Yuxiu swore that once she walked out the front door, she would never again set foot in Wang Family Village. She'd be ashamed to show her face in this place. She had no interest in settling scores with its residents. If everyone is your enemy, it is the same as having no enemies. When there are too many lice, you stop scratching.

Yuxui accepted what had befallen her. She could let everyone off the hook but the little whore Yusui. Thanks to her, Yuxiu was no longer able to hold her head up in Wang Family Village. If the little whore had never uttered those evil, hurtful words, none of this ever would have happened. The girl would have to pay, especially since she was her own sister. This was one score Yuxiu was determined to settle. And once she'd made up her mind, she swung into action. 

Note: This book counts toward the Color Coded Reading Challenge (any other color: orange) and the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2018.   

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Nevertheless, a Good Spring

So far this year has included precious little baseball, which is not to my liking but can't be avoided. My chosen city is far from the Grapefruit League venues, which all seem to be marching further southward with the passage of time, while I drift north with every move. And work has been keeping me busy, even on the weekends.

There's college baseball here, but it's a little too rah-rah for me. I'm just not drawn to it, although the team is tearing it up this year. Their current record is 24-8, so yes, I really should go.

Thanks to C.S.'s prompting, I made a pilgrimage to see the Red Sox, near and dear to my heart. Never in my wildest dreams would I have expected to be on the field for batting practice before the game, but C.S. made it happen.

It's a spring tradition for C.S. to call me from the field and let me listen to the crack of the bat from behind the batting cage. This year I heard it live.

That makes up for a lot of missed games.


Monday, April 9, 2018


I read 'em, but I'm not going to review 'em.

I feel a little bit guilty. It's my all-or-nothing mindset, I think. Sometimes that all-or-nothing thinking gets me into trouble, so it's a good idea to challenge it a little now and then.

I also feel like I'm getting away with something. Maybe I should do that more often.

Okay, maybe I'll just say this: These books were both good, in a light-hearted, restful way, with plenty of common sense and humor, a strong and soothing sense of place, and interesting characters. If you want to know more, there are various other reviews for Alexander McCall Smith's books under "S" in the "By Author" section here. These two latest works are more of the same, in a good way.

How's that for a compromise?