Facing War Trauma in Edinburgh

Around the world in books!For one the challenges in a Goodreads book group, I finally got started on the Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker. The books in the series are on the 1001 list, have received awards and huge critical acclaim, but I was having trouble getting excited about starting them. Once again I have learned that I irrationally fear historical fiction, but love it once I begin to read. This book was particularly interesting to me as a psychologist and faculty member teaching psychology. I am far from psychoanalytic in orientation, but this novel does a marvelous job of illustrating how some of the techniques of psychoanalysis can be tremendously useful in understanding psychological phenomena. The novel also beautifully illustrates the many potential psychiatric manifestations of war trauma. It is written with tremendous compassion for the men whose lives it portrays, soldiers suffering shell shock in the first world war and the doctors treating them. Here’s what I wrote on Goodreads:

Regeneration (Regeneration, #1)Regeneration by Pat Barker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a very moving account of the impact of combat in WWI on both the men at the front and those who treated them after the psychologically traumatic events they lived through. It’s based on real people and real events. It is beautifully written, combining some of the real poetry written my soldiers in their time convalescing in a military psychiatric hospital with the author’s own equally well-crafted prose. The novel, which is the first of a trilogy, explores questions about the morality of war, about the ways in which the military and political aims of those safe and in power are played out at great cost by those who actually do the fighting, about the morality of returning psychologically traumatized individuals to relative mental health only to send them back into the trauma. It juxtaposes two very different ways of treating conversion symptoms which translate conflicts about returning to combat into debilitating physical symptoms, and provides excellent examples of psychodynamic psychotherapy complete with analysis of dreams. I used it to teach my personality theories course the day I started reading it, because it was so perfect for illustrating some of what I was teaching about. I am really looking forward to the rest of the series!

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Grenada and Sweden on the Edge of My Seat

Around the world in books! I just finished up the second of Stieg Larsson’s suspense novels, and I am going to keep this brief so I can start the third one! The novel definitely captured my full attention, and I was really glad to have a physical copy of the book as well as a copy on audio, since I didn’t want to put it down for the weekend, and also didn’t want my 6 year old daughter to hear it. I’m counting this novel for Grenada, since that is where the action begins, but it takes place mostly back in Larsson’s home turf of Sweden. Here’s what I said on Goodreads:

The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium, #2)The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another gripping episode in the Swedish series by Stieg Larsson, this novel focuses on the international sex trade and a complex web of relationships the nature of which takes most of the novel go become clear. Blomkvist and Salander, the main protagonists of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, are back, but because of quirks of both their personalities, they are estranged from each other at the opening of the novel. It is hard to write about this one without spoilers, so I won’t get into plot, but I can tell you that the novel doesn’t provide a lot of breaks in the tension as this one develops. I should go to bed right now, but instead, I am going to make a quick dent in the final book of the series.

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February Plans

8274999Since I’m currently about four commute days away from finishing my next chunkster (The Girl Who Played with Fire), I’m not going to have reviews to post for a bit. I decided to share with you the results of my crazy strategizing about February challenge reads while we wait. There are a couple fun ones happening in a group I participate in on Goodreads. The one pictured here is from the You’ll Love This One group’s TBR Toppler, which is a crazy group read thing that we do for different periods of time (24 hours or a week), sometimes in teams. This one involves teams competing to win at BINGO. There are a variety of rules about who can read what, so that the ravenous readers don’t just take over and dominate, but the basic idea is that each person on a team reads a different genre to complete a row, column or diagonal. Then we see who collects the most BINGOs in a week of reading. I have been assigned classic, crime, and dystopian for the group. Classic is defined as a book likely to stand the test of time and at least 20 years old. I’m sneaking in with the second book of the Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker (copyright 1993) because I’m reading the first book of the trilogy for a different challenge in the same Goodreads group. I’m figuring that I will knock off one of my TBR pile challenge books, Execution Dock by Anne Perry, for the crime option (should earn me a bonus, since the author herself was convicted of murder as a kid(!), but there is no such bonus). My dystopian novel will probably knock off a 1001 Books selection (as do the Regeneration books), as I am leaning toward Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. I generally like Atwood, so that will be fun.

The other challenge that I’m reading Regeneration, the first book of the trilogy, for is the February Monthly challenge in the YLTO group. It is Olympic themed, and the rules are as follows:

“The YLTO (You’ll Love This One) Olympic Committee is proud to host the 2014 Reading Olympics, sponsored by Goodreads, where you’ll find all your reading needs.

Your first task is to determine which country you are representing. The book you read will either be set in that country, or written by an author born in that country.

The next task is to decide which sport you will be participating in. In addition to your country criteria, your book will also have the following criteria based on your sport:

1. Alpine Skiing – Your book will reflect this sport by being set in the mountains.

2. Biathlon – Being a superb shot with a rifle is mandatory in this sport. The book you choose will have some kind of weaponry in it. There is one restriction in this category. The theme of the book may not be about war.

3. Figure Skating – Your book must involve the creative arts (dancing, art, singing, etc).

4. Curling – Rock it out, people! Anything to do with rocks (archeology, diamonds, rock music, etc.)

5. Ice Hockey – This sport can be all out war! Your book choice must have a war theme (and now you know why you can’t use it for Biathlon).

General Rules:

1. The book may be in any format – paperback, ebook, audiobook.
2. The book may be in any genre.
3. The book may NOT be combined with the Year Long Chunkster Challenge.
4. The book must be read between February 1 to February 28, 2014 (based on your own time zone).
5. The challenge is for one book. You may read more books if you chose, but only the highest scoring book will apply.
6. The book must be 150 pages or more determined by the issue you read. If reading eBook or audiobook page numbers will be deteremined by the issue that comes up on a Goodreads search.

Scoring: (Count all qualifiers that apply)

10 points if book is set in the country you represent AND the author is born there.
5 points if the book’s theme is any of the winter sports listed here.
5 points if the book’s theme is the Olympics.

5 Points – Olympic village: If there is a village in your story
4 Points – Orange on the cover
3 Points – Author’s last name starts with O

5 Points – Length is between 300-400 pages long (based on the edition you read or as per rule #6).
4 Points – A Lake is in the story. (Specify)
3 Points – A Lady is on the cover. (Count only once.)

5 Points – Young Adult genre.
4 Points – Yellow sun is on the cover
3 Points – Year setting is between 1900 and 2000.

5 Points – Title starts with the letter “M”. It may be proceeded by “the”, or “a”.
4 Points – Male author
3 Points – Memoir

5 Points – Poetry is included in the story.
4 Points – Author’s first name starts with “P”.
3 Points – Pink on the cover.

5 Points – Initials in Author’s name
4 Points – Informational (aka non-fiction)
3 Points – International – set in 3 or more countries.

5 Points – Cold – set in Winter
4 Points – Main character is non-human
3 Points – Calligraphy – Title or author’s name is written in script on the cover.

5 Points – Series title is same as book title (eg The Shining, The Shining 1)
4 Points – Shakespeare is mentioned.
3 Points – Science Fiction genre.”

Not sure exactly how many points Regeneration will give me, but it seemed to fit enough options without me giving it a ton of thought, and will be a relatively quick listen in the car.  In fact, all the books I’ve lined up so far are pretty short–long enough to meet minimum requirements for the challenges, but quick enough to help me get a bunch of books done without having to extend beyond commuting time much. I’m sure I will also get another chunkster or two in after the Toppler week, or before and after, depending on how the timing works out. I still have to finish the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, after all, and since they are just sooooo boring (NOT!)…

Hope you have enjoyed this sneak peak, and let me know if you have read any of these!

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Traveling Back to East Texas in the 1960s

IMG_20120904_131924This summer I moved to Houston to take a job teaching in the psychology department of Lamar University, which is located 100 miles east, in the heart of East Texas. East Texas is a place you have to learn to love. I interviewed on a couple of grey days, and the oil refineries, flat landscape, and often run-down looking neighborhoods had me sure I would want to turn the job down. Yet I found myself drawn to the people, and reassured myself that I have loved everywhere I’ve lived (except Rochester, NY when I was 3-4), so why not East Texas? Six months into the job, I can’t say that East Texas is beautiful. It is still often pretty bleak, although I have come to love the sky above the open grassland on my commute, and the rivers and estuaries and farmland with all sorts of hoofed creatures that I pass on my drive. And I love the people here. They are kind, and real, and full of heart.

Early in my time with my students, they learned what a ravenous reader I am, and started making recommendations. The book I just finished was one of them. This memoir is set in “Leechfield,” a stand-in for Groves, TX, which is actually where I get my hair done now. The book does a wonderful job of evoking all that is good and bad and simply true in East Texas. I love being able to picture it 50 years ago through hearing Mary Karr narrate the audio. I feel like I have done a good job with my Texas book for the Around the US tour. This one really is about place.

The Liars' ClubThe Liars’ Club by Mary Karr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the house, Daddy slipped his jean jacket over a kitchen stool. We were fixin’ to eat, he said. Leica unstacked the white melamine picnic plates on the plywood bar. They looked crude as Flintstone plates after our Colorado china. Each had 3 plastic compartments so you could keep your butter beans out of your greens and the greens’ potliquor from soggin’ up your cornbread. Daddy stood at the stove working with a long wooden spoon inside a pot of something muddy. He dribbled water from the silver kettle into the pot, and I heard it loosen up. In a few minutes you could smell garlic and pork back and then came the idea of sheer celery slices in a mess of red beans and rice.

Like the selection I have excerpted here, this memoir as a whole does a great job of capturing the ethos of small East Texas towns in the 1960s. They are hard places, dominated by oil refineries and muggy heat. The children play by “slow racing” their bikes behind pesticide trucks spraying DDT to kill mosquitos that bring sleeping sickness. The men are hard-drinking, tall-tale telling, bar brawling working men, but this doesn’t make them bad fathers. The story of Pokey and her older sister is the story of this life, and of the dramatic swings it takes because of their mother’s drinking and attacks of “nervous” which can turn dramatic with little warning. Mary Karr’s narrative style is relaxed, at times funny, always evocative. If you want a taste of East Texas life, this isn’t a bad way to get it.

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The Journey of A Glass Church in New South Wales

Around the world in books!Without intending to, I have immersed myself in mid-19th century Oceania with my most recent reads. This one was across the water in the marginally more settled New South Wales. The narration begins in the present day, with a narrator telling us the story of earlier generations and the strange church which is central to their history. Here is my Goodreads review:

Oscar and LucindaOscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In order that I exist, two gamblers, one Obsessive, the other Compulsive, must meet. A door must open at a certain time. Opposite the door, a red plush settee is necessary. The Obsessive, the one with six bound volumes of eight hundred and eighty pages, ten columns per page, must sit on this red settee, the Book of Common Prayer open on his rumpled lap. The Compulsive gambler must feel herself propelled forward from the open doorway. She must travel toward the Obsessive and say an untruth (although she can have no prior knowledge of her own speech): “I am in the habit of making my confession.”

This novel is the story of these two fascinating characters, a headstrong heiress ahead of her time and an odd, socially and physically awkward Anglican priest, both addicted to gambling, both ill at ease in the mid-19th century Sydney where they find themselves trying to build their lives. Peter Carey has crafted a tale of frontier society full of colorful but flawed individuals thrown together, all angling for something to fulfill their various ambitions, many ruthlessly opinionated or judgemental, aping the landed gentry of home whom they hope to be like in this new land.

Going into this book, I was not a big fan of Carey, who has won multiple prizes for his writing. I had read True History of the Kelly Gang a number of years back. Oscar and Lucinda did a better job of winning me over. While Carey is still not an author I will rave about, I will likely look forward to the next book of his I read much more for having taken a journey to Australia with this odd pair of protagonists.

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Mystery and Gold in New Zealand

Around the world in books! A quick apology: my reviews are probably going to be very short this semester. I’m ridiculously busy, so this is a place I am going to cut back a bit. You will still get a feel for what I think of the books I read, but I may just give you my bottom line. And there will probably be a bunch of Goodreads summaries. Oh, and no promises of excerpts on audiobooks–it’s just too complicated to do.

Ok, so that said, WOW was The Luminaries fun! Do not be scared off by the huge size and slow beginning on this one. I promise there is a chapter that will help immensely just as you start to feel completely lost. If you read it, rather than listen to it, you will get a bit of what I missed: a feel for the structure Catton has created, and a chance, if you want to, to look up the astrology references and get whatever they added, which flew over my head as I listened on my commute.

Below you will find the Goodreads summary and then my very short review.

From Goodreads: It is 1866, and young Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men who have met in secret to discuss a series of unexplained events: A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely ornate as the night sky.

Richly evoking a mid-nineteenth-century world of shipping, banking, and gold rush boom and bust, The Luminaries is a brilliantly constructed, fiendishly clever ghost story and a gripping page-turner. It is a thrilling achievement for someone still in her midtwenties, and will confirm for critics and readers that Eleanor Catton is one of the brightest stars in the international writing firmament.

The LuminariesThe Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another hearty thank you to the Booker committee from me. This book had everything–fascinating characters, a complex puzzle of a plot, a creative structure, marvelous evocative language, a gold rush, astrology, a seance, possible murder, possible fraud, shipwrecks, opium dens, a mix of races and social classes. It is an intimidatingly large tome, and it takes awhile to get going, but once it does, you won’t want it to end (at least I sure didn’t).

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In Sweden, After A Long Delay

Around the world in books! I predicted I would finish this Chunkster by Wednesday. It’s Monday night and I am ready to start book 2 of the series. I can’t believe it has taken me years to pull this one off my shelf and read it.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium, #1)The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I way behind the crowd in getting to this book. It was recommended to me by a relative years ago, I bought it right away, and it has been on my shelves ever since. Finally, yesterday I picked it up, and tonight I finished it. It was a fascinating crime thriller, with a good dose of finance and journalistic ethics thrown in. The characters were quirky and appealing, complex but engaging. The plot was suspenseful, but the pieces added up in logical ways. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

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