All branches of Marin County Free Library will be closed on Monday, July 4 for Independence Day.

Neshama's Choices for 4th week in August

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This installment: an eccentric forges a zig-zag path to maturity; a reporter makes peace with his gay son; a Nice Jewish Boy becomes a Lovely Lady; a powerful sequel to Lowry’s The Giver; dystopian Colorado; and a French DVD set in an obscure region.


    Panorama City by Antoine Wilson


The protagonist, Oppen, narrates this book into a tape recorder from his hospital bed, post accident. He believes he's not long for this world and wants his unborn child to know his story. Oppen is admits he's a "slow absorber" primarily because of his naivete, but he gained a lively vocabulary from con man/visionary Paul Renfro. When Oppen's grandfather dies, he’s plucked out of sweet, easy small town life by his well-meaning Aunt Liz who's determined to make a man of him. A fast food job and a psychiatrist are her strategies but Oppen forges his own zig-zag path and finally--well you'll find out...He's a lovely, well-meaning guy who gets into absurd situations and I was glad to make his acquaintance on these pages.


   Oddly Normal by John Schwartz


This memoir, subtitled "one family's struggle to help their teenage son comes to terms with his sexuality" (whew) is the second "queer" book I've read in succession. (Funny how the library delivers themes-- the magic of when one’s holds arrive.) Schwartz is a reporter and brings his skills into this narrative. Joe, their third child, gravitated towards dolls and dress-up early on and his parents guessed he might be gay. But Joe thought of it as his "secret" and didn't come out until he was 13. Learning difficulties, bad teachers (though the school was considered one of the best), and the brutal culture of childhood--and society--conspired to exacerbate the stresses on him and these culminate in a suicide attempt. Three years later, with bright blue hair and a love of theater, Joe's much better, thank you. But what a difficult, frustrating, scary journey. We have a long way to go, but enlightened, articulate parents like Schwartz can help.


   by Kate Bornstein


Subtitled "The story of a nice JEWISH BOY who joins the CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY and leaves TWELVE YEARS later to become the LOVELY LADY she is today." (whew again) Kate lives in CAPS much of the time, definitely bigger than life. In her picture we see a tall blond with tattoos, snuggling with a pug, grinning to beat the band. It took 6 decades to get there though, with a very peculiar sojourn deep into that bizarre organization, complete with wife and child, for a while. When "Albert" finally climbs out and becomes Kate, she's deeply drawn to women and S & M. Now a performance artist and playwright in NYC, she has one girlfriend and lots of pets. She'd like to make peace with her grown daughter but The Church forbids it. Lively, fascinating, outrageous and touching.


   Son by Lois Lowry


(A sequel to The Giver.) Water girl is a designated “bearer” but the birthing is flawed so she’s demoted to work at fish farm.  In this highly regulated society there are no natural family ties but she’s determined to find her child whom she learns is hard to handle.  When she discovers he’s doomed she grabs him and makes a daring, almost fatal escape that separates them again.  She ends up in an isolated, unregulated village.  They care for her and teach her survival skills but she’s always an outsider.  A crippled shepherd boy befriends her and prepares her to make her way out—a long, arduous process.  She has to bargain with the Trademaster, evil incarnate, and gives up her youth in exchange for the chance to see her son, who has no idea who that crazy old lady is.  But the time comes when evil must be vanquished and he turns out to be the agent to do so.  Fascinating and compelling. Note: this is considered a “juvenile” book in our collection but that didn’t stop me.  A profound tale, no matter what age it’s designated for.


   The Dog Stars by Peter Heller


Another in the bleak world’s-gone-to-hell genre (which I happen to love) and this one is quite powerful.  We meet Hig, a pilot holed up with survivalist Bangly in what’s left of Colorado.  A killing flu has wiped out most of the populace. It’s not a pairing Hig would choose but they offer mutual protection. Hig’s wife is dead but Jasper the dog provides some comfort, as do occasional hunting and fishing forays into patches of undespoiled wild country. Jasper dies and Hig makes a daring flight to find out what’s out there.  He finds a woman and her father trying to defend their hidden patch and ultimately there’s a healing alliance.  Not a milieu for tender feelings but Hig knows some poetry and it’s still in there despite the surrounding brutality.  Spare yet evocative writing.


   Nobody Else But You


A French DVD that fell into my hands while checking it in (ahh, serendipity) so I gave it whirl and was pleased.  Mouthe is the Siberia of France, and mystery writer Rousseau, who comes there to check on a deceased uncle’s behest in the dead of winter, stumbles across a supposed suicide that leaves suspicious traces.  Candice was a blond beauty, a local celebrity—the TV weather girl as well as the “face” of region’s cheeses. But she’s deeply troubled, in therapy, and models herself on Marilyn Monroe with creepy self-created parallels that echo MM’s history.  The actor, who also plays the writer, reminded me of Sean Penn.  All that snow makes for atmospheric cinematography, but (a caveat) also makes reading the white subtitles a challenge.  Worth it, however.


Back next Tuesday (Monday's a holiday.)



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Posted by: Neshama

Neshama works at the Fairfax Library.

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