Readers Recommend, March 26, 2021


"Hey, Hillsdale, you would really like . . . "


Do you have a recommendation, a tip, a hint that you want to share with your Hillsdale neighbors? It could be a book, a recipe, a tv show or movie. Maybe a hike or a restaurant. The only requirement is that you like it and that you think the rest of us will like it, too (ok, two requirements). Recommendations to/from all ages welcome (best bedtime story recommendation, anyone?). Keep it positive and keep it to 350 words or fewer, but don't keep it to yourself.


Send your Reader Recommendation to the Hillsdale News so we can keep Hillsdale hopping with good ideas and good information.


--Valeurie Friedman

Recommended by Cathy Petrecca:


The Solace of Leaving Early

By Haven Kimmel

Doubleday, 2002

I read. A lot. Mostly literary fiction, but I enjoy a story-like work of non-fiction, too, or a good mystery, or a book that can make me laugh. My favorite authors write prose that reaches toward poetry, and weave philosophy/religion into a gripping story. Think "A River Runs Through It" by Norman Maclean, or "Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson. You’ve heard of those two novels and probably read them. Here’s one you haven’t, and should: "The Solace of Leaving Early" by Haven Kimmel.


In this intelligent, poignant novel, a young woman returns to her small Indiana town to nurse some psychic wounds; there, she finds souls much more damaged than hers. This novel looks at both blossoming and deteriorating relationships: parent to child, lover to lover, individual to God, counselor to counseled.


The author is younger than Maclean or Robinson when they wrote their masterworks, so she perhaps raises more questions than she answers, but she does so in ways that make one truly think about the questions. And she does so with language that stirs the heart and elevates the spirit. I am not a religious person, but who can’t be moved by language like this: “We might imagine that we are on a boat, and that the prow of the boat penetrating the water is the choice made, or the present thing, and that the wake following the boat is what is not chosen, the absent thing: tiny wave upon wave, a body growing wider and wider, finally dissolving into the universe in ways we cannot fully perceive. What is present is finite; what is absent is infinite.”


I grew up in Indiana, so I might be biased toward my fellow-Hoosier author, but I believe this novel speaks to anyone interested in the human condition, and how we’re all connected. I heartily recommend it to those who enjoy a literary examination of life, combined with a great story.


This novel has humor (“Happiness is a theory, and we in Indiana do not traffic in theories. We are an applied people.”), beauty (“Some fight against any measure of grace, and some decide to sit very still at the table and linger.”), incredible heartbreak, and a journey toward becoming better, more aware, more alive. You will want to linger at the table of this novel.


Recommended by Robert E. Hamilton:

Africa Memoir: 50 Years, 54 Countries, One American Life

By Mark G. Wentling

Open Books, 2020


Those interested in a much longer review of Africa Memoir will find it in the February 10 edition of the online magazine Peace Corps Worldwide.


Mark G. Wentling was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Honduras (1967-69) and Togo (1970-73) and during five decades continued to work in Africa for United States Aid for International Development, Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, and World Vision. He managed or consulted on dozens of aid projects within the continent and visited all 54 African countries.


“The central purpose of this book,” Wentling says in the foreword to this book, the first in a trilogy, “is to share my lifetime of firsthand experiences in Africa. I also attempt to communicate my views about the many facets of the challenges faced by each of Africa’s countries.” The countries are presented alphabetically: Algeria-Zimbabwe. Volume I ends with Liberia.


Wentling notes that Africa comprises more than 25% of the membership of the United Nations, a population of 1.2 billion people. Sub-Saharan Africa has “the world’s highest urbanization and population growth rate,” and 50% of the continent’s population is below the age of 19. By 2022, Africa will have more people than China or India. Geographically, Wentling reminds us, Africa is as large as the US, China, India, and Europe combined. About 2,000 ethnic groups reside within Africa’s coastal boundaries.


Wentling concisely describes the strategic, historical, and humanitarian interests of the US in Africa as well as the competition from other countries for Africa’s trade and natural resources. He is impressed with Botswana for its political stability and efficient use of its natural resources for national economic benefit, and praises other countries which have never experienced serious conflict or turmoil. He also criticizes countries whose leadership has brought economic turmoil, ethnic strife, low GDP, poor health, education, and transportation systems and presidents who refuse to leave office after 20 or more years of corrupt practices.

I do not recommend Africa Memoir as a guide book or history book.  Its strength is the description of everyday living and working conditions.  Mark Wentling is very fond of African peoples and communities, is married to an Ethiopian woman, and is realistic about the prospects of development projects and partnerships with African governments and non-government organizations.  I recommend the book for anyone considering a visit or extended stay in Africa as well as organizations contemplating partnerships and collaborations with African organizations, small or large.

Recommended by Marilyn McFarlane:

The Dutch House

By Ann Patchett

HarperCollins Publishing, 2019


Ann Patchett has written another bestseller, this one a Pulitzer Prize finalist. It's a compelling, rich story that kept me reading into the night. It's full of twists and turns and strong characters, most of them believable though they're in an offbeat modern fairy tale, complete with castle (a mansion outside Philadelphia), an evil stepmother, and a brother and sister who must rely on each other.


The story is told in first person by the younger brother, Danny, a technique that worked for me, though Danny seems clueless at times. But that's part of his growing independence and awareness of his own needs; and the main character is his sister Maeve, who has the best dialogue, on-target and often funny. Maeve is confident and determined to get back at the stepmother, which makes the ending all the more meaningful and at least partially redemptive. It includes the real mother, who deserted her family long ago to serve the poor in India, and the threads that come together in unexpected ways. (I'm trying not to reveal too much here and spoil the ending.)


Deep emotions and changed lives are involved, and although some of The Dutch House requires a stretch of the imagination, it draws you in and makes you care—no small feat for any author.


In a book club discussion, there was a wide range of reactions, but no one was indifferent. All this from one writer's vivid imagination and skill.

Read any good books lately? Let us know.




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