*pings the universe* Hello - yes, still here! In my thoughts more often than on the page these days, but you know how that is sometimes. Lovely to have both the inspiration and the opportunity to pop back here.... 1) there are a handful of books that I love love loved recently and 2) a lovely publisher sent me a book out of the blue, which is more of a rarity than it used to be and I have a few thoughts about it and 3) it is a holiday weekend and that one extra day has brought me to a place where I can actually breathe, and think, and write! And so...
An absolutely fascinating collection of fictional stories about real women who lived on the periphery of fame - too eccentric or unaccomodating or behaviorally unacceptable for their time, and/or overshadowed by someone famous in their lives. I am one to always have suspected the under-appreciated Watson likely had far more complexity and interest than the obviously attention-getting Holmes, if only one took the time to dig a little deeper and truly look. The stories -each prefaced with a marvelous vintage photo that in itself sparks the imagination - are superbly written, suspenseful, and left me devouring even the endnotes and still wanting more.
You probably already have a firm opinion on vaccination and childhood immunizations and as such may not think that you need to read more about it. While I am already firmly in the pro-vaccinate camp and need no convincing, I found Biss's consideration interesting, essential and thought provoking. She explores every aspect of immunity, why it works, the social/cultural/and public health history of our modern vaccination policies, why some fear it - for reasons understandable and less so, and why in America opting out - for those without medical reasons to do so - is a privilege that endangers others and would be devastating in many parts of the world. I found the book left me thinking hard about how we humans (all of us, not just those who oppose vaccines) are very imperfect - and rarely completely rational - in how we come to our beliefs. And very timely this week with California's latest policy. Well worth a read.
By way of disclosure I am a fan of Engine Books, a wonderful small press of which Lacewing is a new and exciting Young Adult imprint. I am a fan of the author, Myfanwy Collins, of whose beautiful and unflinching flash fiction and earlier novel Echolocation I am also a fan, and whom I have come to know just a little bit through social media. Her latest, The Book of Laney explores the incredibly difficult subject of school shootings through the lens of a perpetrator's surviving sibling. The description of the event itself was very hard to read (as one might expect) but the heart and soul of this book is not the terrible act, but Laney. She is vulnerable and tough and completely compelling - I loved her voice and her story and the captivating writing, and above all, the hope.
I was eager to read Minnow, winner of the 2014 South Carolina First Novel prize, largely because it is set just over the river from where we live, in the South Carolina low country. Minnow does a beautiful job capturing the wild beauty and magic of this terrain, full of palmettos and loblolly pines, islands and coastal salt marshes, vegetation that grows thick and mysterious and animals that are quite exotic to those of us not from here. In the story, the child Minnow is on a quest for medicine for his sick father, and in order to get it, Minnow must venture ever farther out a chain of islands to retrieve a handful of dirt from the grave of a now feared evil spirit. The premise is charming, the writing enjoyable, and the scenery wonderful. Though I found the story a little too charming sometimes, and strictly linear in its telling, I enjoyed the book and especially the ending, which took a completely unexpected turn in both tone and plot.
Sources: I received my copy of The Book of Laney as a birthday gift from my family. Almost Famous Women, On Immunity, and Minnow came from our public library. My thanks to the publisher for my complimentary copy of Dragonfish.