Power and strength – celebrating the men in our lives

August 3, 2009 by  
Filed under Reading Space

Fathers, brothers, husbands, sons – we all have or have had at least one of them in our lives together with their power and strength in various forms, assisting in the shaping of it.

I lost my father and a brother in the same year I turned 14. A vivid vision from the past of my father is of him sitting in a small room we had at the back of the house that he had turned into his study.

It was lined with ‘shelves’ fashioned with long planks of wood held up by bricks at either end, most of them threatening to fall heavily as they each carried the weight of books arranged from one end to the other.

I spent many an hour (alas mostly he was not there) delving into these books, not fully knowing at the time just how those moments would impress themselves upon my life – nor the precarious situation I was in!

Gone too soon at 52 I never got to know my father very well but it is most obvious how my love for books and reading began. Together with a headmaster for a father and a teacher for a brother there is no doubt :)

With Father’s Day next month in mind, I place titles below with the intention you may find in them a reminder to celebrate the power and strength within you gained in part perhaps not only by the men who currently grace your life but also from the past, lovingly and otherwise…and/or just to gift in appreciation.

It is not flesh and blood but the heart which makes us fathers and sons

~ Johann Schiller ~

manthropology by Peter McAllisterManthropology – Peter McAllister

Drawing from archaeology, anthropology and evolutionary psychology, the author (a qualified palaeoanthropologist) confirms the awful truth: every man in history, back to the dawn of the species, did everything better, faster, stronger and smarter than any man today.

Highlights include: a biomechanical analysis proving that a Neanderthal woman would have beaten Arnold Schwarzenegger in an arm-wrestle; a philological investigation of why 50 Cent would bomb in a battle-rap with the poet Homer; and a comparison of injury rates between today’s Ultimate Fighting and ancient Greek Pankration.

Every modern claim to masculine fame is debunked, from terrorism (why wouldn’t Osama bin Laden have made Captain in Genghis Khan’s army?) to metrosexuality (why would David Beckham come last in a Fulani tribesmen’s beauty pageant?).

Even the modern male’s bragging rights about parenting are shown up as fraud: Congo Pygmy men carry their sons and daughters for 47 per cent of their waking day, and some Pygmy dads even develop lactating breasts to nurse them. Now that’s commitment…

My Father's Tears and Other Stories by John UpdikeMy Father’s Tears and Other Stories – John Updike

A beautiful, moving collection of short stories, in many of which Updike revisits the haunts of his childhood from the vantage point of old age.

In ‘Fiftieth’ old friends reconnect at a class reunion, and one of them is left wondering, ‘What does it mean: the enormity of having been children and now being old, living next to death.’

In the story ‘The Full Glass’ the protagonist describes somewhat ruefully the rituals of old age. Before going to bed, he raises his nightly water glass ‘drinking a toast to the visible world, his impending disappearance from it be damned.’

In ‘Varieties of Religious Experiences’ a grandfather, visiting his daughter in Brooklyn Heights, watches the tower of the World Trade Centre fall, and his view of a God is altered for ever.

Again and again in these memorable stories, Updike strikes to the heart, giving words to what is so often left unsaid. He is at once witty, devastatingly observant, touching – and, of course, a consummate storyteller. This is a collection that will be admired and cherished. (304 pgs)

Papa's Little Penguin by Anna PignataroPapa’s Little Penguin – Anna Pignataro

In a white peppermint world as far as the eye could see lived Papa Penguin and Little Penguin . . .

Like all small children, Little Penguin loves being with his daddy. But when Papa Penguin goes fishing, Little Penguin discovers independence he never knew he had. Nothing could be more comforting, though, than when Papa comes home and together they call the stars in, one by one. (32 pgs)

How To Paint a Dead Man by Sarah HallHow to paint a dead man – Sarah Hall

A rich, layered contemporary novel of art, absence, loss and passion.

Italy in the early 1960s: a dying painter considers the sacrifices and losses that have made him an enigma, both to strangers and those closest to him. He begins his last life painting, using the same objects he has painted obsessively for his entire career – a small group of bottles.

In Cumbria 30 years later, a landscape artist – and admirer of the Italian recluse – finds himself trapped in the extreme terrain that has made him famous. And in present-day London, his daughter, an art curator struggling with the sudden loss of her twin brother while trying to curate an exhibition about the lives of the twentieth-century European masters, is drawn into a world of darkness and sexual abandon.

Covering half a century, this is a luminous and searching novel, and Hall’s most accomplished work to date. (336 pgs; Man Booker Prize 2009/Longlist)

The Macquarie Pen Anthology of Australian LiteratureThe Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature

The Macquarie PEN Anthology is a celebration of a rich, living literature. Some of the best, most significant writing produced in Australia over more than two centuries is gathered here in this landmark anthology.

From fiction, poetry and drama to diaries, letters, essays and speeches, the anthology maps the development of one of the great literatures in English in all its energy and variety. From vivid settler accounts to haunting gothic tales, from raw protest to feisty urban satire and playful literary experiment, from passionate love poetry to moving memoir, the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature reflects the creative eloquence of our nation.

Over 1500 pages, over 500 literary works and over 300 authors.

not yet: a memoir of living and almost dyingNot Yet: A Memoir of Living and Almost Dying – Wayson Choy

In 2001, Wayson Choy suffered a combined asthma-heart attack. As he lay in his hospital bed, slipping in and out of consciousness, his days punctuated by the beeps of the machines that were keeping him alive, Choy heard the voices of his ancestors warning him that without a wife, he would one day die alone.

And yet through his ordeal Choy was never alone; men and women, young and old, from all cultures and ethnicities, stayed by Choy’s side until he was well. When his heart failed him a second time, four years later, it was the strength of his bonds with these people, forged through countless acts of kindness, that pulled Choy back to his life.

Not Yet is a passionate, sensitive, and beautiful exploration of the importance of family, which in Choy’s case is constituted not through blood but through love. It is also a quiet manifesto for embracing life, not blind to our mortality, but knowing how lucky we are for each day that comes. (196 pgs)

Man Gone DownMan Gone Down – Michael Thomas

Beautifully written, insightful, and devastating first novel, Man Gone Down is about a young black father of three in a biracial marriage trying to claim a piece of the American Dream he has bargained on since youth.

On the eve of the unnamed narrator’s thirty-fifth birthday, he finds himself broke, estranged from his white Boston Brahmin wife and three children, and living in the bedroom of a friend’s six-year-old child. He has four days to come up with the money to keep his family afloat, four days to try to make some sense of his life.

He’s been getting by working construction jobs though he’s known on the streets as “the professor,” as he was expected to make something out of his life. Alternating between his past–as a child in inner-city Boston, he was bussed to the suburbs as part of the doomed attempts at integration in the 1970s–and the present in New York City where he is trying mightily to keep his children in private schools, we learn of his mother’s abuses, his father’s abandonment, raging alcoholism, and the best and worst intentions of a supposedly integrated America.

This is an extraordinary debut. It is a story of the American Dream gone awry, about what it’s like to feel preprogrammed to fail in life–and the urge to escape that sentence. Michael Thomas’s writing recalls some of the great American masters, including Ralph Ellison, but his debut is wholly and distinctly an original. Man Gone Down is a dazzling addition to the literature of and about America today. (448 pgs; International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award 2009/Winner)


One Response to “Power and strength – celebrating the men in our lives”
  1. amypalko says:

    Didn’t know about the Updike collection. I just loved his collection of stories about the Maples. Think his short fiction is so perfect – always manages to deliver such amazing descriptions without giving too much away. Will definitely get myself a copy of My Father’s Tears & Other Stories. Thanks for drawing my attention to it!