Monday, May 19, 2008

Weekend Reading and If The Fire Ants Are Biting, You Feed Them Grits

There are weekends during which you accomplish a great deal and there are those that are a total loss. Occasionally, some fall in between on the spectrum, but I'd go way west on this weekend. Not much of anything accomplished. So, when I went outdoors to work on removing the monkey grass in my front garden and discovered that the fire ants have built a home right where I planned to stick my gloved hands, I was irritable. When I got a bit too close to them and they bit me (even though I gave them plenty of room, the little space hogs), my mood was foul. I had to take a nap to recover.

But, I've fed the fire ants some American Cheese-flavored grits (presumably, the ants will eat them and explode -- hoping that's not what happens to humans because I just ate some of the Three Cheese variety) and now my mood has improved. I can now share my weekend reading with you.

On Saturday, I finished reading The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank by Ellen Feldman.

6-word synopsis: What if Anne's friend Peter survived?

Peter, of course, refers to the Peter whose family shared hiding space with Anne Frank's family in their hidden Annex for two years, during WWII. The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank is a novel concerning what might have happened to Peter van Pels (referred to as Peter van Daan in The Diary of Anne Frank) had he survived the concentration camp where his life ended. After time in a Displaced Persons camp and a new beginning in the United States, where he does not admit to being a Jew, the fictional Peter settles into a mildly neurotic and fairly prosperous life. But, Peter is haunted by his past, a past he prefers to keep buried even from his wife and children. When The Diary of Anne Frank is published and then turned into a play and, later, a film, his tenuous facade begins to crack.

This book really caught me off-guard. I found it was much more compelling, emotional and believable than I'd dreamed possible. I'll read just about anything, but I tend to give a wide berth to books that place a reader firmly in the head of a real person. My thought process is something to the effect of, "How can one possibly presume to guess at the thoughts of another human being -- one who truly lived and breathed and was not, in fact, fictional?" That bugs me.

But for some reason this particular story appealed to me. I think Susan's review might have been one of the reviews that sparked my interest. And, Tammy mentioned it as a favorite read in 2005 (her review is currently the third featured review at Amazon). It's a pretty depressing story, but I found it plausible, particularly concerning the emotional upheaval Peter might have experienced when the horror of his past came back to haunt him. Definitely recommended, but be prepared for an onslaught of emotion. The ending, I should add, is pretty upbeat.

In other reading, I'm about halfway through Susan Grant's latest novel, Moonstruck. Moonstruck is the story of Admiral Brit Bandar, a woman who has made it her mission to fight the Drakken Horde and dedicated years of her life trying not only trying to wipe out as many of the Horde as possible, but also to capturing rogue warleader and pirate Finn Rorkken. When the Coalition and the Horde draft a peace accord and become part of the new Triad, Bandar and Rorkken are thrown together, where they must share command of a new space ship and fight their unexpected attraction to each other. Or, not. It's a romance, after all.

Moonstruck is much darker than Your Planet or Mine?, a book that made my list of favorites in 2006. See my review of Your Planet or Mine?, here. I'm enjoying it, particularly for the change of scenery. I do prefer romantic comedy to a darker tale, but I also happen to really like Susan Grant's writing. More on Moonstruck, when I finish the book.

On Sunday, I planned to read a few short stories but only managed to squeeze in one: "Star Light, Star Bright" from Virtual Unrealities by Alfred Bester. How can you not love a story that begins like this:

The man in the car was thirty-eight years old. He was tall, slender, and not strong. His cropped hair was prematurely gray. He was afflicted with an education and a sense of humor. He was inspired by a purpose. He was armed with a phone book. He was doomed.

Well, that's a grabber, isn't it? I'm afraid anything at all that I say about this story might give too much away because it unfolds in just the right way. But, I can tell you that the 38-year-old man is in search of something small but important and that his search does, indeed, lead to his doom. Maybe that's what makes it so suspenseful, just knowing that something bad is coming but not exactly how or when or why it will happen. In fact, the story bears some resemblance to Richard Matheson's horror stories -- such as "The Incredible Shrinking Man"-- which are straightforward and suspenseful but seldom in any way gruesome or repellent. It's the fact that you know things are never going to improve that gives them the classification "horror".

So, now, I've just proven that the new little blurb I wrote for my profile is inaccurate. Sometimes, I actually do read horror -- just not the gory stuff that induces nightmares. And I hate true crime. Shiver.

Off to fetch the kiddo. Happy Monday!

Bookfool, on a Positive Mood Swing

21 comments:

  1. The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank sounds awesome! I added it to my TBR.

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  2. My family is all from the South. I used to spend many summers at my Great-grandparent's house in Kentucky. And I loved the Southern cooking....except for the grits. Ewwww.....never thought about using it to kill anything!!

    I loved your review of The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank. I've wanted to read this one for a long time. It sounds great!! (But I'm one of the few who haven't actually read Anne Frank's Diary. Figured it would be more meaningful if I read that one first!)

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  3. What do you mean you didn't accomplish much?!! That's one big pile of reading!

    But I'm dying to know if the fire ants survived the old explode-them-with-grits ploy!

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  4. I think I'm going to add The boy Who Loved Anne Frank to my TBR heap. The more I hear about it the more interesting it sounds.

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  5. Teddy Rose,

    I thought The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank was a thought-provoking read and worth the time. Hope you like it, too. It's one of those books you hesitate to call "enjoyable" but "meaningful" seems like a fitting word. :)

    Stephanie,

    I don't normally eat grits. I just figured since I was buying some for the ants, I might as well get a flavor that looked somewhat edible and give them a try. They're the dried, quick-fix kind. They'd probably kill you if you ate too much, actually, but you know . . . I wanted to try the natural method before going with poison. They just tasted like salty grain, to me. Kind of weird.

    I do think it would mean more if you read The Diary of Anne Frank, first. The character Peter refers to Anne's comments, quite a bit, so if you don't know anything about the characters and what Anne said, I think it would be kind of a dry read. But, knowing the full story really rounded it out and made the novel make sense. Definitely read Anne Frank's diary. She wrote about their lives with passion. You can't help but mourn her loss, just imagining what great works she could have written as an adult.

    Debi,

    I guess I'm referring to the other half of the ceiling, which I really meant to paint (but didn't get around to because I was fighting a vicious migraine, all weekend) and the yard work I'd hoped to tackle. There's a heck of a lot to do before it gets really hot and we're driven indoors. I did read more than I realized, actually! :)

    So far, the ants are alive. I think the deal is that they all die if they feed grits to the queen and she explodes. I really don't want to use poison, if I can avoid it, but they're in a spot I want to work on and those ants have got to go. Mean little suckers.

    Jeane,

    I think it's worth adding to the heap. I thought the author did justice to the memory of Anne Frank, the terror and deprivation of life in hiding and the unfathomable loss and accompanying emotions that survivors must have felt. Add that to the fact that Peter ended up in the United States, where people really didn't suffer the hunger and fear of those who were bombed, hid, were imprisoned and eventually ran out of food and the contrast really makes you think. I can't shut up about this book, so I guess I think it's one worth reading and talking about! :)

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  6. Anonymous8:55 PM

    Fire Ants simply can't eat solid food. Fire Ants love corn grits. But they don't eat it - don't even have the jaws to chew the grits up. Their larvae do though, so they eat them after they have ground them up very small to digest. Which is why most Fire Ant treatments that do work using corn impregnated with a toxic or metabolically-fatal oil do work. Forgagers take baited grits back to the larvae and the whole nest dies because the larvae feed both queen and workers the active ingredient:

    See: http://fireant.tamu.edu/research/arr/category/non-chemical/97-01pg4/97-01pg4.htm

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  7. Anonymous,

    Thanks for the info! Your link sort of falls off the page and I was unable to cut and paste, although I'll cross my fingers and hope the whole thing comes through when I open my email, so I can jog over there and read (not bothering to keep the email account open, since it seems to have been fed corn-based products laced with poison).

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  8. Ooh, The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank sounds really good, and I really didn't enjoy The Diary of Anne Frank all that much (I think I'm the only one in the world that felt negatively about it).

    Anywho, grits?! Really! Makes sense, and it's a lot safer for Miss Daisy than fire ant killer. Might have to give it a try myself.

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  9. Sorry about the fire ants and the bites! I just read an article somewhere about some sort of little ant or spider that eats fire ants...wish I could remember more.

    I think I'm going to pass on the Anne Frank book only because I don't want that much emotional upheaval right now. But, it has gone onto my list.

    Yours is the second place I've seen Moonstruck and I've got to say the cover is really trying to suck me in. And your review hasn't helped my resistence whatsoever!

    And I love that opening paragraph. It does make you want to know what happens.

    I'm glad you had a somewhat more relaxed weekend. You deserve it!

    cjh

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  10. I am going to sound so dumb when I say this, but I'm going to say it anyway "so that's what the white stuff on my gram's ant piles always was!" I didn't know the secret grits trick! It's good to know! Apparently my Gram did know the trick...

    I've been wanting to read The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank too, but unfortunately I haven't read The Diary of Anne Frank yet :/ So I'll read both soon after your mahvelous review! It really sounds like a great book!

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  11. Andi,

    I think you have to be in the right frame of mind to handle The Diary of Anne Frank and it's probably not for everyone. I doubt you're the only person in the world who felt negative -- you're probably just one of the few willing to say so.

    If you believe Anonymous and his study, grits don't work. Actually, we've found that the ants pick up and move when you feed them grits, which is probably just fine. I only need them to evacuate the monkey grass, so I can finish that last little bit of planting. It's worth a try, right?

    CJ,

    Tell me if you figure it out. Not that I want to go looking for spiders, but I'm just not thrilled about pouring poison around. We have animals playing in our garden.

    I wouldn't read The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank if you're feeling blue. It's pretty depressing, probably at least partly because it does seem so plausible. After reading the book, I have a better understanding as to why some Holocaust survivors refused to ever speak about their experience. I'm still recovering, here, myself, just from the reading. That's what Moonstruck is for. I'll let you know how it turns out. If you want a real upper, go right out and find a copy of Your Planet or Mine? It's loads of fun. :)

    A relaxed weekend is better if you're not in agony, but I guess I should be happy I got a little time off, right?

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  12. Chris,

    You are such a funny guy. Why didn't you just ask Gram? LOL Okay, yeah, you don't think of those things when you don't own the yard, right? :)

    I hit the link Anonymous left and it says grits don't work. But, I read a study in which doctors came to the conclusion that spinal anesthesia doesn't cause lingering back pain in some young mommies who have that kind of anesthesia with c-sections. I can tell you they're wrong about that one. I haven't ever had back problems before or since my first child was born, but I had a lingering pain in the spine where they stuck that needle in for 2 years. So, I'm a little hesitant to believe a single study with one name at the top. I say give Gram's method a try. :)

    I think you'd find both books very moving, Chris. If you do read them, you'll have to tell me what you think.

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  13. I had kind of intended to read 'The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank' last year after I read her diary, but I never got around to it. I'll definitely have to try and fit it in sometime.

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  14. Nat,

    I think it's worth the read. It might have been a little too horrifying to read them one after the other, anyway.

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  15. LOL @ "I had to take a nap to recover." I feel your pain!

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  16. Alfred Bester is fab but I'm not familiar w/that short story. Must remedy!

    If you say the Peter book is good.....

    Sci Fi! No wonder I couldn't place the Drakken Horde off hand.

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  17. J. Kaye,

    My husband would probably tell you I'm constantly in recovery mode. ;)

    Carrie,

    I love, love, love Alfred Bester. He's a "good shelf" kind of author, for me. Virtual Unrealities has been terrific, so far, although I'm saving it and just read a story or two, now and then.

    Don't buy Peter! I owe you one. And, I have your address, right here. I wrote it down. Har.

    What, you've never heard of the Drakken Horde? Those vicious, baby-killing marauders? Welllll, now you know. I'm not sure whether one should duck or drool when one sees a handsome, muscular Drakken, at this point.

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  18. When I saw Moonstruck, I thought the movie with Cher (which I LOVED). Oh well. :) That's the kind of cover that I would have to hide if reading in public for fear of violent blushing attacks. Ha!

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  19. Trish,

    I loved that movie, too. The cover is what my parents would have called "suggestive". I don't think it's that bad, though, as romance covers go -- nobody is swooning and the male has his shirt on. LOL Anyway, I'm so old I don't care what people think of my book covers -- just what I think! :)

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  20. I forgot all about The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank. I remember seeing it when it first came out and really wanted to read it, but have yet to get my hands on a copy. I need to jot this one down so that I don't forget again, lol!

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  21. April,

    I actually got my copy in the Dollar Store, believe it or not. So, you might be able to find it remaindered if you look around. Even so, it's worth the price. It's a very moving story.

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