Book Recommendation Wednesday!

For this week, I am recommending a book that I have not reviewed here on the site. 

Mary Ellen Mark: Ward 81 is a collection of photographs, with captions describing their content focusing on the lives of women in a mental ward. At the time, this was the only locked ward for women; they were considered “dangerous to themselves or to others.” After 36 days, Mary Ellen Mark produced this book of photographs, along with collaborators who assisted her in the writing and production process.

We often read, watch, hear about the terrible state of mental asylums, prisons, etc. but it is not often that we feel like we can visualize one, or understand one. This book does the best possible job of showing what it is like. One of the most moving parts of Mary Ellen Mark’s work is the compassion you can feel from her photographs; she cares about these people, she cares about this work. After her death, I hope that more people will recognize the power in her work, and the power in photojournalism.

You can pick up Mary Ellen Mark: Ward 81 at Amazon.

For those who are not lovers of photography (do those people exist?), I am recommending another book that I have not yet reviewed here, Their Eyes Were Watching God. This book is a classic of black women American history. It is a tale of the capacity of human spirit to heal, a tale of finding one’s self and a celebration of womanhood. It is one of my favorite novels of all time, and I highly suggest it to anyone who has not read it. Also to people who have, read it again. Their Eyes Were Watching God is beautifully written, with prose that flows so seamlessly throughout the novel.

Have any suggestions for me? Let me know if you read any of them!

Ripper by Isabel Allende

Did I think Allende could do it? Yes, but still I had my doubts.

Ripper pulls the reader right in, it is 500 pages but it reads like 150 (I finished the book in two days). The suspense took a different turn around 40 pages left. I read mystery novels, but I was so invested in the characters from this book that I had to flip through the next pages. I know, I’m the worst, but I had to see what happened. I was going to get a heart attack if not.

Overall the novel is about a series of murders in the San Francisco area. Of course, the main characters are a family, drawn together by the voluminous, evanescence creature, Indiana (I seriously love the name Indi). Her family is strong, her friends are strong and I found the villain believable. I have to say I guessed it!!!! Not in a bad way, since I only guessed half of it, but still I was happy to guess “who dun it” as they say.

One of the things that I always found were Allende’s strengths were building characters that you could read, read into and read again. Do people like Agatha or Amanda really exist? I’m not sure, but Allende does a good job of showing us what it means to be human, to have different loves and interests and beliefs.

Thoughts the Ripper was funny and touching in a way that extended beyond the typical idea of a “mystery novel.” I thought it was a great read, interesting at every turn. I loved the characters and was captivated by Allende’s always stunning use of language (Did she write this in English first??)

Great Passage

He was so eaten up with jealousy that he hired a private detective, a man named Samuel Hamilton Jr., and instructed him to keep tabs on Indiana and a record of the men she met, including her patients at the Holistic Clinic. Hamilton was a short little man with the innocuous air of a vacuum cleaner salesman, but he had inherited the nose of a bloodhound from his father, a journalist who had solved a number of crimes in San Francisco back in the 1960s and was immortalized in the detective novels of William C. Gordon. The son was the spitting image of his father: short, red-haired, balding, keen-eyed. He was dogged and persistent in his fight against the criminal underworld but, overshadowed by his father’s legend, had never managed to truly develop his potential and so scraped by as best he could. Hamilton tailed Indiana for a month without discovering anything of interest, and for a while, Alan was reassured, but his calm was short-lived; soon he would call the detective again, the cycle of mistrust repeating itself with shameful regularity. Fortunately, Indiana knew nothing about these machinations, though she ran into Samuel Hamilton so often, and in such unexpected situations, that after a while they would say hello to one another.

Duplex, by Kathryn Davis

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I’m not made of money, you know, her father said and the girl laughed, because who was? People weren’t made of paper or metal. That was what made them people.

Duplex is a complicated novel. It is somewhat a collection of short stories, though the characters remain the same and it seems to flow in a logical order (one can never tell what fits and what does not in this book). I want to start off by saying, I did not know that this book was going to be science fiction. I want to repeat myself, this book is science fiction. Personally, I still liked it, but it was pretty shocking when it first started and there were robots and people living together, and sorcerers and well, I’ll let you read the book 😉

The crickets were rubbing their hind legs together, unrolling that endless band of sound that when combined with the sound of the sycamore trees tossing their heads in the heat-thickening breeze could cause even a girl as unsentimental as Mary to feel like she’d just left something behind on the porch stoop she couldn’t bear to live without.

Overall the novel follows the lives of a community, particularly a very plain girl named Mary and her love for Eddie. Eddie goes off to become a ball player, and Mary marries someone else in a very complicated series of events. Their stories are broken up by tales from a woman named Janice, who has the most horrific, yet delightful, stories about girls who came before them. Girls who turned to beads, girls who were horses and mermaids. Janice was my favorite character of the book.

Apes or humans–we all made the same mistake, tempted by shifting leaves or the smell of sex, by music or a ripe banana.

Recommendation if you like science fiction, read this book. If you like magical realism, read this book. If you like beautiful language and like magic, read this book. The language that Davis uses is truly beautiful and striking. The novel is punctuated by magical events juxtaposed with the familiar, like a daughter pulling away from her daughter. I think this novel would be a better read going through it knowing that it is science fiction. The style of writing is complicated, but also flows nicely, so one could read right through it without reading anything at all, so keep in mind that it is complicated and requires attention.

I think it’s often possible for a person to lie to herself while at the same time knowing perfectly well what’s going on.

Other Thoughts personally, I kept reading through the book, passages over and over again, feeling like I was missing something. Was there a greater symbolism here? I wasn’t really sure, though I think the last story does a really good job of tying it together. Janice tells a story that all the women deem boring, and she says but this is everyones story. I did not do a good job of quoting her there, so I encourage you to read the book to see what it is really like.

The afternoons had a way of stretching endlessly in all directions as if time were taffy, something a person could get caught in.

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Eddie had been a good person to begin with; the material part of his body including his brain cells and his memory couldn’t forget that fact, even while the cold black wind of soullessness kept blowing through the empty space inside.