Presently, for the book club, I’m reading “Cutting For Stone”. I was all prepared not to like this book. My first reaction was, not another one of these–a family saga of sorts. And it’s long–534 pages. And like what often happens with book selections by the club, while I might not have chosen a particular book, I often find that I’m grateful it was chosen. As is certainly the case with this book. I can barely put it down, and probably wouldn’t except I have other things to do too–you know, like eat and sleep. I’ve just finished with Part One (109 pages) so I have a long way to go. The first part takes place in Addis Ababa, at “Missing” Hospital. That was supposed to be “Mission” Hospital, but when the Matron (essentially, the hospital administrator) returns to try to get the name corrected, the Ethiopean clerk points out the spelling on the paperwork as if to say, this is written down, therefore it’s right. I remember thinking this afternoon while reading that one of the striking things about the book is the characterization. Each character, no matter how “minor”, is finely and discretely crafted. It makes me think of the jewels in a crown; some jewels are larger than others but each one contributes to the whole. So stay tuned, obviously. The author is Abraham Verghese, who was born in Ethiopia, is a physician, and is on the faculty of Stanford Medical School. This is his first novel.
“The Dog Stars” is an apocalyptic novel written by Peter Heller. It’s unclear what time period it takes place in, but I get the impression it’s in the not too distant future. There has been a pandemic of the flu, followed by a mysterious blood disease that follows, that is, if you survive the flu. Our hero, and I use that term cautiously, is Hig. Along with his dog Jasper, Hig has escaped Denver to a tiny airport where he keeps an old Cessna. One day a man named Bangley appears with a virtual arsenal (believe me, they needed one) and the two of them settle into an uneasy alliance. At one time, Hig had an interest in astronomy, but he doesn’t have any of his astronomy books with him. He recognizes some of the constellations, but starts making up his own names for others. He names one after his wife and unborn child, who died of the flu, and one for his dog Jasper, thus…The book starts somewhat slowly, because after all, there is not much to do other than maintain constant vigilance to protect themselves. Hig grows a garden, and he occasionally hunts and fishes, although that isn’t as much fun as it used to be, because the flu also killed a number of animal species, including, to Hig’s distress, all the trout. But when the action cranks up, it does so with a bang, so to speak. So, no quarterback fake here, you really should read this book. I would say more, but I’m afraid I would unintentionally give away spoilers, and I’m waiting for my sister to read it.
“Into The Land of Snows”, by Ellis Nelson. This is a YA novel and I’d first like to say a few defensive words about YA fiction. I have nothing but admiration for YA authors and primarily for this reason: as an adult, it’s very hard to “reach back” to that mindset. YA authors must be able to do that, while not crossing the boundary of being condescending. It’s a fine line. The YA author has to treat his or her readers with respect. As a result, some YA novels are just as interesting to “already” as they are to “almost” adults. And this one accomplishes that. Sixteen-year old Blake is forced to travel to Base Camp at Mt. Everest (how awful, right?) to spend time with his father. He doesn’t want to do this; his parents have recently divorced, for which Blake blames his father. He’s very angry, and wants nothing more than to be home, although frankly, things aren’t working out that well for him there either. When there is an avalanche on the mountain, his father sends Blake back to Katmandu, with a Sherpa guide. Due to the weather he cannot go by helicopter, he has to walk. And that journey is the heart of the book. I’ve read many mountain-climbing stories involving Everest and K-2, but never have I been introduced to the life of the Sherpas like in this book.
Within the not-too-distant past, I decided to re-read “Call of the Wild” and “White Fang”. I had to hunt all over the library for them, because they were in the YA section. I doubt Jack London had YA fiction in mind when he wrote them; that’s just how it’s worked out. I myself first read them when I was 11 or 12 years old. Even more recently, I read “War Horse”, another YA novel.
The moral to this story: there are great books to be found in every genre and for any age group. Think “Alice in Wonderland” and anything by Dr. Seuss.