Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

I read this book while I was sick with the flu last week and found it both exhilarating and heart rending all at once.  It was a unique book that really pulled me in.  The story is so fascinating that when I started explaining it to my husband all three of my kids ages seven to eleven were enraptured and wanted to know how it ended.  Seven-year-old Penelope told me I need to read it to her – I told her she has a few years left before she’s old enough!

A.J. Fikry is at a low point in life.  His beloved wife has died in a car accident and business is down at his book store.  He spends his evenings in a drunken passed out stupor.  He hits another low point when the Tamerlane, a rare and valuable collection of 1st edition Poe poems is stolen from his apartment.  Then through a series of events, A.J. finds something to believe in again and continue his life.  His book store becomes a rare haven where you can find a good book selection from AJ himself and where book clubs groups including the Chief’s Special. Police chief Lambiase not only becomes a friend, but a great reader as well. 
Between each chapter, A.J. describes a particular short story that has spoken to him through his life.  I was pleased that many of the short stories I have read as well and thought were fantastic.  It made me realize I really need to read short stories again.

A.J. himself was a crotchety character, but I loved reading about him and his transformation.  I loved all the other characters as well.  I enjoyed that they were all linked by the love of books, reading, writing, selling, publishing – it was so interesting!  I also loved that the book was a swan song about the printed word and about small independent bookstores.  I love bookstores, nothing can replace them!  The storyline was very unique and I enjoyed it.  I’ll admit I shed a tear at the end of this book!

I enjoyed that the book had additional information in the back including a conversation with the author and book club questions.  I’ve had this book on my “to read” list for quite some time, but I finally read it as the new Kewaunee Library Book Club has picked it for this month’s selection.  I hope I make it back from work in time to attend.  I was in the previous incarnation of the Kewaunee Library Book Club for six years until its dissolution in 2012.  I think this book will lead to interesting discussion.

Favorite Quotes:

“What is the point of bad dates if not to have amusing anecdotes for your friends?”

“Remember, Maya:  the things we respond to at twenty are not necessarily the same thing we will respond to at forty and vice versa.  This is true in books and in life.”

“A sentence occurs to her:  The day my father shook my hand, I knew I was a writer.”

“We read to know we’re not alone.  WE read because we are alone.  WE read and we are not alone.  We are not alone.”

“No man is an island; every book is a world.” – Island Books slogan

Overall, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is an engaging read - sentimental, romantic, funny, mysterious and a love story to all lovers of books.  I highly recommend it.

Book Source:  The Kewaunee Public Library.  Thank-you!

The Christmas Tree Ship by Cris Kohl and Joan Forsberg

A legend of the great lakes, the famous Christmas tree ship, the Rouse Simmons sank in Lake Michigan in 1912.    I first heard of this ship when I moved to Kewaunee and my sons checked out a nice “Christmas Tree Ship” children’s book at Christmas.  I thought it would be a happy Christmas story, but as I read the end of the book to the boys I was crying.  You mean Captain Santa does not make it back to his wife and three daughters?  Cue the tears.

The Christmas Tree Ship adult book gives great historical detail about Christmas trees, the use of Christmas tree ships, Captain Herman Schuenemann, the Rouse Simmons, the sinking of the ship, and its rediscovery in the 1970’s.  It also discusses the current Christmas tree ships that keep up the tradition in Chicago.  

I was interested to learn in this book that Christmas tree ships were kind of a nostalgic tradition even in 1912.  Instead of just buying a Christmas tree at a lot or on a sidewalk, it was a family tradition to go down to the Chicago River and select a tree from a schooner, which had become a rare sight on Lake Michigan at this time.  

Another interesting tidbit I learned was that Captain Schuenemann’s business model was to buy old schooners on their last legs and try to stay at least one trip away from their sinking.  In fact, his brother met his end when his Christmas tree ship sank on the way to Chicago.  Captain Schuenemann may have hauled lumber all year, but it was the Christmas tree ship that made the most profit and made it, so they could clear the year with profit.  

Captain Schuenemann had become known as Captain Santa and tried to outrun a storm with his load of Christmas trees from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on his way to Chicago.  Unfortunately, the storm caught him and he lost control of his overloaded ship.  It was last seen flying a distress flag going by Kewaunee (where I live).  The Kewaunee Rescue station called the Two Rivers Rescue station as they had a motor boat (Kewaunee did not) and they risked their lives to help the Rouse Simmons, but never found the ship in their search.  It was not seen again until a diver found in the 1970’s.  Captain Schuenemann’s wife and daughters kept up the tradition for twenty years after his passing, which is extraordinary.

I really liked reading the details in this book, I learned a lot more about Christmas trees, Christmas ships, and the Rouse Simmons.  I found it fascinating.  I thought the layout of the book was very informative and I LOVED all the pictures that were included.  My husband and kids loved looking at this book as well.

Favorite Quotes:

“There are few Great Lakes shipwrecks that have attained “legend” status.  The Griffon, the first shipwreck on the upper Great Lakes, is the most searched for vessel, and the Edmund Fitzgerald, the most famous modern shipwreck and the subject of a popular song, is known worldwide.  Helped by “Captain Santa” the Rouse Simmons was such a source of joy and celebration that her loss affected thousands of people, and the story, even 100 years later, continues to move us.”

“For about 40 years, between the end of the financial crisis of 1873 and the beginning of World War I in 1914, Christmas Tree Ships flourished as a traditional and welcome source of holiday trees for urbanites in prairie ports.”

“But the Great Lakes have one very unique advantage:  they contain the best-preserved shipwrecks in the world!”

Overall, the Christmas Tree Ship is a very informative book about the sinking of the famous ship but it also gives great details about Christmas trees, ships on the Great Lakes, etc.  I highly recommend it!

Book Source:  I purchased an autograph copy from The Peninsula Bookman in Fish Creek Wisconsin.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

Wishful Drinking is adapted from Carrie Fisher’s one woman show and is a humorous look at her fantastical life growing up the daughter of celebrities and then becoming one herself.  This was a great book to read right after Christmas.  I laughed a lot while I read this book, it had a lot of great one liners.
Fisher tackles a lot of subjects including Hollywood inbreeding, what her life was like growing up, becoming an action figure as Princess Leia, and finding out she was bi-polar.  It was an interesting look at her life and I appreciated how she tackled tough subjects.  

This is a hard book to describe as it is so unique.  I love old Hollywood and Star Wars so it was interesting to see these items from behind the scenes.  It was also fascinating to read about Carrie’s personal struggles and how she kept battling her way through life trying to get better, especially for her daughter.  

One surreal story that made me laugh was when her mother got Cary Grant to give her a call about drugs . . . and then her father did as well.  Although Carrie Fisher is the daughter of celebrities and a celebrity herself, Cary Grant was someone she was in awe of.  So, she had a couple of one hour talks with Cary Grant about her drug problems which was a very unreal experience for her.

I also liked her frank discussion about her marriage and their unraveling.  She talked about her daughter and her love for her and I really liked that.  Although Carrie Fisher had a bizarre family experience growing up, you could tell that family was very important to her. But that she also wouldn’t mince words if she thought her family members were being odd or hilarious.

Favorite Quotes:

There are so many it’s hard to pick from – but here is just one about her parents’ marriage break-up when her Dad cheated on her Mom with Elizabeth Taylor (cover your sensitive eyes – this is a ribald comment which were there a few of in this book, but it was hilarious):

“Because about a year later, Mike Todd took off in a private plane in a rainstorm, and the following morning Elizabeth was a widow.  Well naturally, my father flew to Elizabeth’s side, gradually making his way slowly to her front.  He first dried her eyes with a handkerchief, then he consoled her with flowers, and he ultimately consoled he with his penis.”

Overall, Wishful Drinking is a humorous look at the surreal life of Carrie Fisher.  It made me understand her struggles better, while also causing me to chuckle at the absurdities of celebrity life.  I highly recommend it with a word of caution that sometimes things get crass – but in a hilarious kind of way.

Book Source:  Christmas Present from my Best Friend Jenn