Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Schuyler's Monster by Robert Rummel-Hudson (✰✰✰✰✰)

Schuyler's Monster is not some phantom conjured by a child and reported to live in her closet. Her Monster is real, a genetic abhoration, residing in the very structure of her brain tissue, invisible to all save the MRI machine. The monster is invisible; Schuyler is silent.
I was very excited to read this book, as I too have a wordless daughter. In the beginning I was disappointed because it felt like it was Robert's autobiography and not Schuyler's story, and to some extent that feeling carried through for the first half of the book. As I pondered the book after finishing it a couple of thoughts combined to bring this book up from a three star rating to a five. First, I thought a lot about my impatience with the author telling his story. As the parent of a severely handicapped child, I wasn't interested in the father's frustrations and emotional roller coaster. If I am completely honest, I felt just a bit of exasperation with him for not focusing on all the things that his daughter could do. As opposed to, say, my daughter.
However, as I mulled things over, several things became clear to me. The average reader does not have a daughter like his Schuyler or my Winter, and would, therefore, have no idea that a train wreck in slow motion is a pretty good metaphor for how your life, as the parent, can feel as you try to keep your child on the track. And the more I read about Robert the more I realized how eloquently he managed to express, without ever losing his sense of humor or poignancy, how one survives this kind of a life altering challenge. I identified so completely with his struggle, and that proves what a beautiful job he did in conveying the reality of our lives to someone who doesn't live it every day.
While my daughter has more medical problems and requires much more physical care than Schuyler, Robert's set of challenges are no less draining; they are just different. I have always been profoundly grateful that my daughter is too "broken" (to use Robert's word) to realize how badly she is being cheated out of a full life experience. Schuyler is a very bright little lady who simply can not speak and has some other slight physical delays. She knows just how different she is, and her parents carry that added pain of being unable to hide that knowledge from her. Robert's battle for acceptable schooling and assistive technology for his daughter is awe inspiring. Beyond a certain point, it became readily apparent that my Winter had reached the summit of her potential and that no amount of medical and therapeutic intervention would ever let her sit, stand, communicate, or a whole plethora of other things. Robert and Julie knew how intelligent their daughter was and knew how much potential she had if they could only find the tools needed to open the floodgates. They have never had the luxury of feeling that they have fought the fight and the battle is won. For them it will be ongoing for as long as Schuyler lives.
By the end of the book, I loved Schuyler. Not in some namby-pamby, gosh what a great little kid kind of way, either. I loved her in an emotionally bonded, heart breaking fashion that surprised me. And I knew in that moment of realization that Robert Rummel-Hudson had crafted a mesmerizing tribute.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

THE LACUNA by Barbara Kingsolver ✰✰✰✰

I could sum this up as, "A very pleasant surprise".  Why I was surprised I can not say.  This was my first Barbara Kingsolver, despite having her Poisonwood Bible on my shortlist, and I am now more eager than ever to get to that title.  Due to my lukewarm feelings regarding the subject matter, this book earned a shaky spot on my TBR shelf, only to surface because it was available on audio at the library when nothing else on my TBR was.

Let us first address said audio.  DO NOT SUBJECT YOURSELF TO THIS AUDIO!  In case the bold print doesn't speak for itself, allow me to reiterate.  The narration, done by author Barbara Kingsolver, was absolutely dreadful.  Very few authors are capable of a good narration, and Mrs. Kingsolver really needs to stick to writing.  However, it speaks to how much I enjoyed the novel itself that I persevered to the end.

The plot spans the early 1900s, carries the reader from Mexico to North Carolina, and introduces the reader to many personages and events from that era.  Such characters as Lev Trotsky, Frieda Kahlo, Diego Rivera, J. Edgar Hoover, and Senator Joseph McCarthy people this novel.  Initially, I thought the book centered around Surrealist painting in Mexico, but this was merely a backdrop to the greater tale of communism in the early 20th century.  Kingsolver's vivid portrayal, not just of her characters, but of her setting, brought Mexico and Ashville, North Carolina to life.  She uses the book within a book technique, also sprinkled with journal entries, reviews, and newspaper articles, to speak volumes about the political upheaval of the time.  

Like all good historical fiction, this one will leave you wanting to read a couple of non-fiction titles about the main players and events.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

IditaRead 2011 Begins!

We are off and running for IditaRead 2011.  You will notice two new pages on the blog, "Iditaread 2011" and "Checkpoints 2011".  The first contains some general info and fun website links.  The second is where you will comment on your progress, and I will move you from checkpoint to checkpoint.

If you are joining us a bit late, we still welcome you!  Just give it a good, honest guess as to what page you were on when the challenge began.

Happy reading everyone!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Iditarod Means: IditaRead Challenge Time!

They will race 1131 miles, through temperatures reaching 80º below zero Fahrenheit and blinding blizzards, with nothing save what their sixteen dogs can pull piled on a sled.  It is known as The Last Great Race.  One of the final places on earth where men and women can test their mettle.  Welcome to Alaska.  Welcome to Iditarod 2011.

I don't know about you folks, but I completely lack the kind of mettle to even contemplate mushing a team of sled dogs through the wildest, frigidest territory in the United States, for a distance roughly equivalent to that between Los Angeles and Oklahoma City.  Alas, it is plenty exciting to track my favorites on my laptop while tucked cozy beneath my down comforter in my own homey bed.  And so, I have a challenge to issue to my fellow readers.  One which can be accomplished beneath your own comforters or from your favorite armchair.  Join me for IditaRead 2011!

How it works: You read until you hit 1131 pages.  Whoever gets there first wins.  Pretty simple, but it would be pretty boring if that were it, so we do dress it up a bit.  A new page, titled IditaRead 2011 will be posted on my blog.  All of the checkpoints on the Iditarod trail will be listed, along with the milage between each one.  As you "reach the next checkpoint", ie: read the number of pages to equal the number of miles since your last checkpoint, you post a comment on the blog page telling what you are reading and a bit about what is happening in your book.  I will keep a master tally of who is at which check point at the top of the blog page.  The Iditarod generally wraps up in about ten days, but I will continue to run the challenge for as long as you the readers keep posting.

Prizes:  Since I live in the beautiful Last Frontier, I am able to get some fun prizes for my winners.

First Place: THE LANCE MACKEY STORY (a book about four time Iditarod winner and cancer survivor Lance Mackey, who is, incidentally, going for win number five this year) and an official 2011 Iditarod t-shirt.
Second Place: THE LANCE MACKEY STORY and an official 2011 mug

All you have to do to join me is comment below that you are "in", and begin logging your "miles" at 10am Alaska Standard Time (one hour behind Pacific for you Lower 48ers) on Saturday, 5 March 2011.

To my fellow book bloggers: I would love to create some blog buzz through this challenge, to generate interest in my blog and to introduce me to others' book blogs.  If you are willing, I would appreciate it if you would put a post on your blogs advertising my challenge!  Thanks!