Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Books on a Plane

While flying may not be the great adventure it once was, it certainly offers great opportunities to pull out a good book. There are the long waits for your flight after you rushed to get to the airports early enough to be sure you were on time. Then, at least if you fly in the winter, there is the extra time spent on the plane as they de-ice the wings. Finally, there is the long flight with no flight attendant bothering you with meals and such.

My husband and I flew to San Francisco to spend the holidays with our math teacher daughter. (The musician spent the holidays sharing her voice with lucky listeners in churches and other venues.) It is a good long flight so we had plenty of time to read. The result is that I have four good titles to recommend that you consider for adult reading enjoyment.

Death With Interruptions by Jose Saramago offers an interesting premise. What if death decided to take a vacation and suddenly no one was dying? Saramago ponders this possibility with humor and philosophy. Imagine, if you will, the impact on religion if clerics no longer could tell people about the importance of what comes after death? Would the funeral industry be forced to offer services for pets? This novel is one that you will think about long after you finish the last page. Thank you to the parent who suggested that I would enjoy it.

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh takes the reader to Calcutta in the 19th century. The colonists have strongly encouraged the people of the rural areas to turn their wheat fields into poppy fields for the opium trade with China. The many characters who people the story represent all of the parties involved in this end of the opium trade. A woman whose husband has died from the addiction that came with his job processing the poppies into opium must run away to find a safe refuge. A ship's second mate tries to understand this new world that he reaches after a harrowing journey which has taken him far from the life he knew as a freed states in the young United States. The British, other natives of the area, and people from all walks of life bring strong accents and stronger feelings to this beautifully written story. I was totally engrossed in this book. The hardest part is that it is the first of a trilogy with the other parts yet to come.

The Seamstress by Frances de Pontes Peebles is set in Brazil in the 1920s and 1930s. Two sisters, raised by an aging aunt in the back country of Brazil, have very different dreams of how they will use their talents as seamstresses to fulfill their dreams. Luzia broke her arm as child and will never again be able to bend her elbow. This is the deformity that marks her when she becomes part of a notorious group of roaming bandits who rob and brutally murder the rich to give to the poor. Her sister Emilia has always dreamed of living in the big city of Recife so jumps at the chance when she meets the son of a wealthy man. Though their lives go in very different directions, each sister keeps an eye open to learn what the other is doing. It is the quality of the writing and the juxtaposition of the the two divergent ways of life that keep one rushing to the end.

I confess that I did not read Stitches by David Small until I got back from my trip, but I don't want anyone to miss this amazing memoir. David Small is an children's book author and illustrator who lives on the west side of Michigan. He won a Caldecott for So You Want to be a President? by Judith St. George. He also illustrates books by his wife Sarah Small and his own stories with easily recognizable drawings full of personality and life. Stitches, however, is not for children. This is the graphic story of Small's very difficult childhood. He survived abuse, cancer, and shocks and disappointments that no one should ever face. It makes one appreciate his happy tales even more. Sarah Stewart and David Small visited Emerson School about a dozen years ago. Everyone who heard them talk was moved by what kind and gentle people they are. This story adds new levels appreciation that I felt for them at that time.

You don't have to fly to find time to read. May your reading be one of the many pleasures you find in 2010.

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