Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret (Atheneum Books, 1970) is a classic coming of age novel by Judy Blume that this year was made into a motion picture.
I think I read the book when I was kid, but not 100 percent certain. I certainly knew of it. This spring I saw the movie and last month read (re-read?) the book.
There really isn’t much more to say about either the book or the movie. Reviews and commentary have been written by so many others. But I’m still going to give my 2 cents.
After leaving the movie, in the parking lot I heard a guy say the film was “weird”—he was walking with who I presumed were his wife and daughter. I wish he would have said it was “insightful” or “I understand more now”—but, weird, well, that was an unfortunate description.
Maybe he meant he was “uncomfortable” or maybe he was embarrassed to admit he just didn’t get it. I give him credit for going, but perhaps a bit more introspection might get him to be able to have an open discussion with his wife and daughter about their thoughts on menstruation.
Menstruation and the search for religious clarity are the dominate topics.
The former is that weird rite of passage that young girls look forward to and soon wonder why.
The religious component of the book is thought-provoking.
This is a book and movie that could and should start a lot of dialog between child and parent (or some meaningful adult in their lives). It’s a good reminder that being a pre-teen isn’t easy—no matter the generation. My guess is with social media life is worse for this age group than it was for me.
All the more reason books and movies like Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret remain available for girls to know they are not alone. Sadly, the book is banned some places.
No Ordinary Assignment (HarperCollins, 2023) is almost an understated title for Jane Ferguson’s memoir.
Ferguson is an award-winning journalist who has traveled from one war-torn country to the next all in the name of providing viewers the truth.
While news executives often want what’s known in the TV world as the “bang-bang” of war, she wanted to show the human side of what happens when there is all that “bang-bang” of military might going off.
Ferguson grew-up in Northern Ireland where gunfire and political unrest were the norm.
Today, she is a special correspondent for the PBS NewsHour and a contributor to the New Yorker.
Her personal journey is worth noting—she had humble beginnings, had to prove herself as a woman, and didn’t take no for an answer.
It’s sad to think 38-year-old women are still having to break barriers, having to fit a certain physical image to be on the air, and that they are not taken as seriously as male colleagues.
While the book isn’t a feminist rant, it does point out the realities of the news business—especially television.
What No Ordinary Assignment also offers readers is a look at war-torn regions of the world that don’t always make the front pages of U.S. newspapers or the lead story on TV unless it’s something that involves the U.S. like the fall of Kabul.
Ferguson points out where the U.S. media fell short in telling foreign stories.
She explains why we all need to be paying attention to conflicts around the world.
I was enthralled with this book. Ferguson’s personal story is gripping, while the reporting she has done is even more captivating. If this book doesn’t convince you of the need for foreign correspondents and the necessity to support quality journalism, well, I don’t know what will.
So many people find history uninteresting. Even worse, there are those who don’t see the importance of learning it. Those people scare me.
It’s so important to keep being educated. Books are one of the ways I continue to expand my understanding of things in the past.
Above and Beyond: John F. Kennedy and America’s Most Dangerous Cold War Spy Mission (Hachette Book Group, 2018) by Casey Sherman and Michael Tougias kept my attention from the get-go.
This isn’t just about the Cuban missile crisis. It’s about the people involved in that scary time when the the U.S.-Soviet Union were on the brink of nuclear war.
It goes beyond Kennedy and Khrushchev. U-2 pilots Rudy Anderson and Chuck Maultsby’s stories are key to this whole story. I had not heard their names before now.
The authors do an incredible job of character development, which isn’t always easy to do in non-fiction because you can’t be creative. You only have the truth to write. But the words you choose and the manner you convey what’s going on can grab a reader—or not.
They set the scene. Even if you know the outcome (and you should), the book was riveting.
This book delves into nuances around that crisis that I didn’t know. It quotes from private meetings that were recorded by the president.
It made me understand how close we were to war.
And it made me realize, again, how important it is to have someone rational in the White House and ideally the Kremlin as well.
When I was growing up, and I’m guessing this is true for many people, I thought anything in the past was ancient history and had little relevance to me. I graduated high school and college in the 1980s, so anything that occurred in the 1970s or earlier was practically the Dark Ages.
That’s the fallacy about history—it does matter. Assuming it had little or no bearing on my life now means there is so much more still to learn.
And, so, yet another book opened my eyes to racial and political injustices in the United States. This time it was Angela Davis—An Autobiography (Haymarket Books, 1974). The first edition was edited by Toni Morrison.
The book is captivating. While I knew something of Davis, the book put many of the pieces together. While this is an autobiography, it’s only a small—though extremely significant—chunk of her life.
She lost her job teaching at UCLA because she was a member of the Communist Party. She was on the FBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted List. She was a force to be reckoned with.
While there will be plenty of people who won’t read this book, I ask you to ask yourself: “Why won’t you?” It provides plenty of examples of racism, social injustice, prison injustice, and a society that is so full of hatred.
I feel like I am more knowledgeable for having read the book. That is a good thing. Sometimes it’s good to be uncomfortable.
The audio version of the book was released in 2022, with Davis doing the reading. Today, she is 79 years old and still active in racial justice issues.
It amazes me that people have banned a book about book banning. Such is the case with Fahrenheit 451 (Simon & Schuster, 1951) by Ray Bradbury.
This was my first time to read it. I wasn’t even sure what it was about until I opened it. The title comes from the fact that 451 degrees F is when book paper catches fire and burns.
While this is a work of fiction, the premise is alarming. The fact it was published 72 years ago, well, it’s almost like the author was clairvoyant.
To me, this is must reading. It paints a horrific picture of what happens to people when there aren’t books, when there isn’t free thought, when the powers that be control us in more ways than a free, democratic society should ever allow.
If you don’t think the United States is on a scary path, you aren’t paying attention.
There are so many categories of books that I want to read, with banned books a recent edition. I’ve now read six of the books mentioned below. Clearly, I have more work to do, especially since this is only a partial list of banned books.
The following is from Barnes & Noble:
“Top banned and challenged books you should probably read immediately:
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
They Both Die at The End by Adam Silvera
The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
1984 by George Orwell
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez
When you don’t speak the native language, you miss out on a lot. One of those big things is getting to know the locals. Such was the case with my three extended stays in Todos Santos, Mexico. That, I regret.
It was just this spring that I learned about the book Treasures of Todos Santos (Mill City Press, 2007) by Jane Bellamy Hagus. After printing and shipping costs, the author intended proceeds to go to children in Todos Santos with special needs.
Undoubtedly, this book is going to have limited appeal. Still, I recommend it to a broader audience who wants to know a bit about this wonderful town in Baja California Sur before it became a tourist magnet. I would have loved to have heard their stories firsthand, to have even been the one asking the questions.
It’s a fast read, with each chapter written in English and Spanish. While the beginning gives some history about this town, most of the book is about the people—oral histories put into print.
My biggest complaint—and it’s a biggie—is the lack of depth about the people. Clearly, the author is not a journalist with skills at extracting a vast amount of detail from people. It’s like it’s a first draft with a lot of holes.
A good editor could have tightened up some of the writing, maybe even made it jump off the pages a bit more.
Still, I was left with a better appreciation for the people and the life they lived. Many were asked about what life was like prior to and after 1974 when the road was paved between Todos Santos and La Paz, as well as what paving the road in 1984 between Todos Santos and Cabo San Lucas meant.
I only know those paved roads. But there are plenty of dirt roads in Todos Santos—I lived on them.
For people with a connection to Todos Santos, I recommend the book. You are bound to get something out of it.
I know what and how I see, hear, feel, smell and taste, but what about all the other living creatures I share the world with?
Until listening to An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us (Random House, 2022) I had not given much thought to how animals navigate the world. Sure, I know a bit about the power of a dog’s sense of smell, but my knowledge about other species had been pretty thin.
Author Ed Young delves into the animal kingdom in a way I had not even given any thought to before.
I had never thought about there being other senses beyond what humans have. Sure, I understand animals can have better senses than us. Many can see at night or hear things we don’t. But some use whiskers and other body parts as sense mechanisms.
Snakes use infrared radiation, bats echolocation, octopuses polarized vision, and bees tap into the Earth’s magnetic field.
I was fascinated and bored by this book at the same time. Such are the hazards of science not being one of my favorite subjects. While Young delivers the information in a manner that is easy to understand, at times it was a bit too much. I could only take in so much at a time so it took me a while to get through the book.
The last chapters were about how humans are changing life for all animals—what with our desire to light up the night sky, create noise on land and in the water, and build barriers to their normal migration in the name of what we call progress. This was illuminating in a negative way. Even music being played outside is changing what’s “normal” to every other living being that can hear it.
It really made me realize how most humans (it can’t be just me!) are clueless about the impacts their daily lives have on the animal world.
It’s not often a group of Tahoe area authors gathers in the same place.
The South Lake Tahoe Friends of the Library is hosting an event on the library’s lawn (1000 Rufus Allen Blvd.) on June 27 from 4-7pm.
This will be a great place to find the perfect book for the beach this summer as well as to stock up on gifts. A signed book is a pretty cool thing to have on your book shelf or to give to someone.
Joining me at the event will be Bruce Rettig, Lori Ault, Robert Max, Ben Rogers, Lori Ault, Kristine Russell, Gantt Miller, Kathy Fellure and Tanja Hester.
We will all be selling our books. For me that includes Sleeping with Strangers: An Airbnb Host’s Life in Lake Tahoe and Mexico ($20), Lake Tahoe Trails For All Seasons: Must-Do Hiking and Snowshoe Treks ($20), The Dirt Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Hikes ($15), and Snowshoeing Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Treks ($10). I accept cash and Venmo.
Some of the authors will be reading from their published works.