Tuesday, May 31, 2011


"Need anything from Barnes and Noble?" I ask my girl, A, last week.  Being a bookclubber, she often has a novel on her "need" list.  I was there for a Library Tech meeting with my member card in hand.  I figured it wouldn't hurt to ask.  "No, but you need to read Modoc," she tells me.

  Modoc, The True Story of the Greatest Elephant that Ever Lived by Ralph Helfer took up my Memorial Day weekend, (along with double batches of potato salad, s'mores bars, and good times with friends and family).  Ralph Helfer is an animal trainer and behaviourist, who specializes in affection and kindness to lead animals to do what he needs.  He was also the last owner of Modoc, an amazing elephant whose life span covered multiple countries and 70 years of adventures.

Modoc was born in Germany and was raised in a circus at the loving hands of Josef Gunterstein.  Josef's only child, Bram, was  born the same day.  Josef finally had the son and daughter he had been waiting a  very long time for.  The two were raised side by side and their bond lasted a lifetime. 

When the circus was sold to an American, Bram stowed away to be with his beloved elephant, leaving behind his recently widowed mother, Gertie, his first love, and his circus family.  The ship sinks and all the animals but Modoc perished.  Modoc floated in the ocean for several days, helping to keep a few survivors alive.  She and Bram rehabilitated in India, at the amazing Elephantorium.  Bram learned even more about elephant training and the bond between all living things. When the American Circus owner heard that Modoc was alive, he was determined to once again separate her and Bram.  Bram sneaks off with her to work the teak forest.  They survived many dangerous adventures and eventually came to the U.S., with Bram being reluctantly hired by the Circus owner who resented his Jewish heritage, but felt Bram owed him big time and was determined to get compensated by working him cheaply.

I'm doing my best not to ruin the whole storyline here, as I highly recommend reading Modoc.  This amazing creature wrapped her trunk around my heart and I shed a few tears as I followed the path she and Bram took together over their lifetimes.  I also really appreciated the spiritual aspects.

Sometimes it is better to accept help than to suffer the consequences without it.  Only men suffer the pride and ego that they themselves have created.  The Creator never gave animals these burdens.  They are of little use, but it is my guess that He had to test us to see if we could overcome. 

All life is built upon steppingstones that reach into the Beyond.  Without them, we could never reach our goals.  Use them, you have earned them, and they are yours.

It is 3:45 a.m. and I haven't slept much this weekend. I finished the book, and turned off the light, but my thoughts went round and round.  I figured a blog was in order.   I don't usually suffer from insomnia, but I guess as long as there are great books around, I'll always have something to turn to.  Pick up Modoc.  You won't regret it.  Thanks, A, for insisting I read this amazing book.  

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Surrounded by Darkness

Sometimes I am just drawn to the dark stories.

At any one time, I am reading multiple books, so it tends to even out, but right now, I am surrounded by misunderstanding, lies, death and deceit. 

Not 5 minutes ago, I finished my latest audio book, Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. 

I don't often listen to murder stories in my car, especially by authors unknown to me.  There is something vulnerable about being read to, all alone, as I drive the 45 minute commute to and from work.  For some reason, this story about murdered little girls and a woman who cuts words into her skin beckoned. 
Perhaps I was curious about the words she picked and placed such as "wicked" above her hipbone and "harmful" on her wrist, which made me want to delve into this darkness.    Whatever the reason, I am glad I heard the story, but will be haunted by it for a long time.

Camille is a reporter who lives in Chicago, but grew up in a tiny go-nowhere-town in Tennessee called Wind Gap.  The first of three daughters to a spoiled, rich heiress, Camille grew up around politeness so thick you could cut it with the pig slaughtering knife that had made her family its money.  Camille and her mother don't speak too much, and when they do, nothing much is said.  Her middle sister died when she was only 13 and her younger sister is about 15 years her junior.  Sometimes Camille doesn't even remember that she exists.

When two girls are murdered in this tiny town, Camille's editor orders her to go home and get the scoop.  She doesn't want to go.  Too many memories of a cold, loveless childhood and the ghost of her dead sister.  She goes anyway.

What follows is a really messed up story about sick family dynamics and jealousy.  Who has killed these little girls?  Why were their teeth removed?  How did her sister really die?  Delving deep into the subjects of alcoholism, cutting, Munchhausen Syndrome, and denial, the book kept me rapt until the very end.  I sat in my car in the driveway to finish it up.  Although my mind had run through the list of suspects throughout the whole story, the ending was still a shocker.  When I looked up the website for the book, http://gillian-flynn.com/sharp-objects/, I saw that the first review had been written by Stephen King.  Figures. 

The other book I am into right now is called Newes from the Dead, a young adult novel by Mary Hooper.  One of my 8th graders requested I order a copy for our library.  I got two.  Gave one to her, and started the other myself.  Based on the true story of servant girl, Anne Green, the story takes place in 1651, when a young woman was hanged for the murder of her stillborn child.  Having been impregnated and betrayed by the uncouth heir of the estate where she is employed, she has not a chance.  Anne is hung and her body is taken to be dissected in front of an audience of doctors (and the young man's grandfather), and yet she is still alive. 

I haven't finished the book yet, as I read bits at a time during my short lunch period which is constantly being interrupted.  I have two weeks left of school, and had better make reading this sad and intriguing book a priority.  Maybe I'll let you know how it ends, or maybe you'll just have to find out for yourself.

Today I stopped by my local library to return the movie "Dinner for Schmucks", which was pretty funny, and thought I'd just pick up a new audio, knowing I was at the end of Sharp Objects.  What do you know?  A Stephen King novella that I had not read/heard yet.  I guess the gruesome still beckons me.  Not a surprise.  Thanks for listening.