DC, Addis Ababa, North Dakota, and Illinois

ATWIB 2013

I’ve been having a lovely time reading, but haven’t been so good at catching you all up on my progress. This review features 4 recent reads, titles A-D for the alphabet challenge I doubt I can finish by year end. The books also check off one country and three states for my challenges, which I also probably have no prayer of finishing. Better luck next year and all that. I really enjoyed all these books. One got a rare 5-star rating, and even the 3-star one was fun.

I recently assigned a paper to my abnormal psych class asking them to use a literary, film, or historical character for a diagnostic case study. Of course almost none of them did a book, but I’ve been reading books from the perspective of the assignment, and in the case of Big Rock Candy Mountain, it was a good fit. I have read a book on ADHD that argues that the reason the disorder seems more prevalent in the US than in some other countries is not overdiagnosis (although that clearly is an issue here), but that the people who moved to this country to settle it were more likely to have ADHD and pass it on to descendents. The father in Big Rock Candy Mountain is a case in point. He clearly had the restless ADHD spirit that fit frontier life and prevented him from settling down and making a stable world for his family. He had strengths which drew his wife to him and kept her with him, but he also had behaviors and traits that caused a great deal of suffering. Of all the books in this review, this was the one that really blew my socks off, but the others were also great. I hope you will try some of these–there is something here for everyone.

All Aunt Hagar's Children: StoriesAll Aunt Hagar’s Children: Stories by Edward P. Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love Edward P. Jones. His stories are rich in detail, with a wonderful ear for dialogue. All these stories take place in Washington DC, and center on characters ranging from children to convicts to a young doctor who learns roots work from an elderly woman in rural NC. The book is a beautiful patchwork quilt of the lives of the African American community in DC. It is a companion piece to the Pulitzer-winning Lost in the City, each central character in this set of stories appearing in the earlier work as a minor figure. I should add that the narration on the audiobook version of this work is absolutely amazing. I could listen to this man read the phone book for days.

The Big Rock Candy Mountain The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wallace Stegner can write the American West like nobody’s business. This novel is a powerful exploration of life on the Northwest frontier at the beginning of the 20th century. When I was reading, I had a brief flash of my childhood reading of the Little House books, in the sense that there is a similar battle-with-nature, exploring-new-territory feel. But this is not the benign territory of Wilder. This is what those books would be like if Pa were a rum-runner and had fatal personality flaws that continually sabotaged his life and that of the family. Stegner’s talent is in creating this man and his world in a way that makes him both detestable and sympathetic simultaneously. Stegner paints the portrait of the family from multiple viewpoints and presents the reader with the challenge of uniting the picture of the characters and their world into a balanced whole. It is a masterful work, and it will stay with me for a long, long time.

Cutting for StoneCutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a wonderful book! The language is beautiful and the plot is entirely engaging. I loved the family drama, the immersion in the life and history of Addis Ababa, the exposure to such much medicine and medical thinking. I would love to be one of Dr. Verghese’s patients–he clearly cares about the people he treats as people, and is making a career of teaching other doctors to do the same. Meanwhile, he is a gifted novelist. How amazing to have so much talent! One warning, if you already love Ethiopian food, as I do, do not read this unless you will soon have access to a restaurant where you can get some. Otherwise the book will drive you out of your mind.

So what is the book about? It is the tale of the Siamese-twin sons of a British surgeon and his devoted nurse, an Indian nun. The pair, unmarried, have been working in a hospital in the Ethiopian capital. When she dies in childbirth, he is so traumatized that he flees, leaving the twin boys to be raised by another medical couple, the hospital ob/gyn and the internal medical specialist. The boys grow up in the extended family of a marvelous hospital staff, which includes a priest/groundskeeper, a nun/hospital director, some other colorful professional staff, and some native Ethiopian servants. One of the servants has a daughter who is close to the boys in age and figures prominently in the tale. The violent events of recent Ethiopian history dramatically affect the family, and eventually one of the twins ends up having to secretly leave the country. Already having completed medical school, he is able to obtain a residency in the US at a hospital in the Bronx. There he eventually encounters his biological father again, and as the story unfolds, the family has the opportunity to repair devastating rifts that had developed in the first 20 years of the young men’s lives.

Divergent (Divergent, #1)Divergent by Veronica Roth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A friend who is a big YA fantasy fan lent me this book, and it was perfectly timed for me being stranded in bed with a fever and on letter D in my alphabet challenge. This book is a quick, engaging read, perfect for a day sick in bed. Great literature it isn’t, but good for not being miserable while cooped up, it is. The basic story is post-apocalyptic/dystopian. We are in a devastated Chicago (convenient for my around the US challenge), in a world divided into 5 factions, each centered around a primary value (Dauntlessness, Candor, Erudition, Abnegation, and Amity). The point of the 5 factions is to keep peace, but dark things a brewing. The story centers on a sixteen year old girl who is at the point of choosing her faction (think Sorting Ceremony from an earlier and more literary set of YA novels), who then discovers that once she has made her choice, there is a further weeding process to get through in order to stay in the faction she has picked, rather than end up factionless and homeless. The book is about identity and has the expectable friendship issues and love interest. It’s a quick, fun, fluffy read, and, yes, I will probably read the rest of the series to see how everything turns out.

View all my reviews

Progress report:

Around the World (goal: 52 total including at least 6 in each of 6 different regions) 29
Asia/Mideast: 6 (Israel, China, Afghanistan, Japan, Iran, Pakistan)
Africa: 3 (Madagascar, Libya, Ethiopia)
Europe: 6 (England/UK, Ireland, Monaco, Poland, Spain, Italy)
Caribbean/Central America/North America: 5 (US, Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Jamaica)
Oceania: 2 (Fiji, Marshall Islands)
South America: 1 (Brazil)
Extra: 6 (Scotland, Greece, Holland, India, Serbia, France)

Around the US (goal: 50 states, DC, and PR): 22 (AZ, CA, CO, DC, GA, HI, IA, IL, IN, KS, LA, MA, MI, MN, MS, ND, NM, NJ, NY, PA, RI, WV)

1001 Books (goal 52): 22

A to Z challenge (must be completed in order–26 author last names A to Z then 26 titles A to Z–strategy is all!): 30
Authors: Auster, Beinart, Chandler, Donovan, Eugenides, Faulkner, Grau, Hosseini, Ishiguro, Joyce, King, Lewis, Murakami, Nasar, Ondaatje, Preston and Childs, Quinn, Rushdie, Scott, Trevor, Updike, Vonnegut, Wouk, Xingjian, Young, Zola YEA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Books: All Aunt Hagar’s Children, Big Rock Candy Mountain, Cutting for Stone, Divergent


About Beth Parks Aronson

I am Associate Professor of Psychology at Lamar University. Previously, I was a psychologist in private practice in Jenkintown, PA where I specialized in anxiety disorders and working with people living with chronic and life-threatening illnesses. I am a little addicted to good literature. Ok, a lot addicted.
This entry was posted in Around the US 2013, Around the World 2013, Books, Other Prizes and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to DC, Addis Ababa, North Dakota, and Illinois

  1. vanbraman says:

    I didn’t realize that your alphabet challenge also included the titles. I though that you had it knocked out 🙂

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