Challenge Titles Finished (Totals To Date):
- Books: 1,665
- Poetry: 79
- Short stories: 84
- Plays: 4
Titles Finished: Totals for 2022:
- Books: 63
- Poetry: 0
- Short stories: 0
- Plays: 0
- Early Reviews: 6
All titles left to go for Challenge: 3,931
Next count: 8/1/22
Kingston, Maxine Hong. Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. Everyman’s Library, 1976.
Reason read: California became a state in September. Woman Warrior was also published in September.
Kingston is a master at weaving first, second, and third voices into a memoir filled with anicient Chinese folklore and cautionary tales about womanhood. I felt a lot of sadness in Woman Warrior. The tragedy starts early in as Kingston describes her mother, a former Chinese doctor, telling a horrifying tale about an aunt giving birth to a sexless child in a pigsty and then committing suicide with that baby; drowning together in a well. There was such shame in this pregnancy, “To save her inseminator’s name she gave a silent birth” (p 14). So much contradiction in culture! There is a crime to being born female and yet there is the story of the fierce woman warrior, the legend of the female avenger. My favorite parts were when Kingston addresses the difference between American-feminine and Chinese-feminine.
Quotes to quote, “No one supports me at the expense of his own adventure” (p 50),
Author fact: I could have read this book in honor of Kingston being born in October.
Book trivia: Woman Warrior won the National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction.
Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything about Woman Warrior except to say that it was published before The Joy Luck Club but didn’t captivate the world like Tan did.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Asian American Experience (p 26).
Ng, Fae Myenne. Bone. Harper Perennial, 1993.
Reason read: September is the month for the Autumn Festival for China.
Here’s what you need to understand first and foremost. This is a story built around grief. Ona, the middle sister, jumped off the M floor of the Nam. M happens to be the thirteenth floor. Unlucky, unforgivable thirteen. Everything that happens to her surviving family centers on this one fact. Ona jumped. Everything is marked by the time Before Ona Jumped and the time After Ona Jumped. Confessional: I am like that, too. When I hear a specific date, I quickly do the math to determine if it is A.D.D. (after dad’s death) or before – B.D.D. Leila is the eldest of three daughters and the one most constrained by old China values versus modern American China. She is aware of the boldness of her actions (eloping when her ancestors had childbride arranged marriages), but she isn’t the boldest of the family. All three sisters are responsible for Mah’s shame. Her sister Ona committed suicide (shame) and her sister, Nina, had an abortion (shame). Even Mah carries shame (an affair while her second husband was away at sea as a merchant marine). Told from the perspective of Lei, she has to make a decision between dating and duty; between marriage with Mason and Mah. Having both seems impossible.
Lines I really liked: sorry. Can’t quote them.
Author fact: Ng has been compared to F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Book trivia: As an aside, my internet copy of Bone was marked up. Every highlighted area made me think I needed to pay close attention to that specific passage.
Nancy said: nothing specific.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in two different chapters. Once in “Asian American Experience” (p 26). The second time in “California, Here We Come” (p 50).
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Purple Hibiscus. Anchor Books, 2003.
Reason read: September is Adichie’s birth month. Read in her honor. Additionally, for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge I needed a book by a Nigerian author.
This is another one of those books for young people where the subject matter is so frank and at times, very brutal.
One teenage girl’s recollections of a violent childhood with a father so religious he beats impropriety out of his wife and children on a regular basis. Papa Eugene’s religious zeal steals a relationship with his own father; refusing to let him see the family for any length of time because Papa-Nnukwu worships differently than Catholic. In Eugene’s eyes, anything other than Catholic is equal to pagan. Even though Kambili lives in fear of her father, she is starved for his approval and affection. Rules: English as a language is civilized, Igbo is not. Coming in second in school is not allowed. Sports are not allowed. Shorts are not allowed. Makeup is not allowed. Consorting with the devil is not allowed, even if that “devil” is your own grandfather. As children, Kambili and her brother Jaja got to pick the weapon Papa would use to violently beat them. Even Kambili and Jaja’s mother is not immune to monstrous beatings. Somehow, despite this strictness, Kambili and Jaja are allowed to spend a week with Papa’s sister, Aunty Ifeoma. It’s their first time away from home and their last time experiencing life as they knew it.
Confessional: I wanted to read this book cover to cover in one sitting. I was riveted to the drama.
Lines I liked, “I was stained by failure” (p 39), “We did not scale the rod because we believed we could, we scaled it because we were terrified that we couldn’t” (p 226).
Author fact: Adichie has been compared to Gabriel Garcia Maquez. She is a Commonwealth Writers Prize winner and also wrote Half of a Yellow Sun and The Thing Around Your Neck. Both books are on my Challenge list.
Book trivia: the title of the book comes from the beautiful purple hibiscus flowers aunty grows in her garden. They are a symbol of defiant freedom from religious oppression.
Playlist: “Ave Maria”, “O Come All Ye Faithful”, Fela, Osadebe, and Onyeka.
Nancy said: Pearl said that “Kambili is a character who will remain with you long after the last page of this beautiful and heartrending novel is turned” (p 157 Book Lust To Go).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the simple chapter called “Nigeria” (p 156).
Just, Ward. Stringer. Graywolf Press, 1984.
Reason read: Just celebrates a birthday in September. Read in his honor.
Stringer is a Civilian Intelligence Agent sent on a mission to Vietnam to destroy an enemy supply convoy. He has a sly sense of humor. When paired with a Captain named Price, Stringer must practice patience. Price is younger, more impulsive, yet in charge. There is no casual conversation between the two men. Neither has confidence in the other. They are on the same team but distrust keeps them miles apart. To keep himself from thinking too much about Price, Stringer recalls his failures: his marriage, their visit to a classmate in a mental institution, Stringer’s short time as a newspaper man. These recollections keep him on task in the present. Ever present is Just’s commentary on the damage of war.
As an aside, the double murder came as a shock and I don’t know why. I should have seen it coming. As an aside, is the trick to aiming and firing a gun to breathe out and pull the trigger when the lungs are at their emptiest and the heart has slowed? I seem to have read this before. Maybe Lee Child had Reacher fire a gun this way?
Quote to quote, “That was the wonderful thing about hindsight, it was morbid, no optimism in hingsight” (p 6), “Eyes and Brains were not equal to the circumstances, they were too selective” (p 118)
Author fact: Ward Just’s middle name is Swift. What an interesting name.
Book trivia: Despite being a slim volume, Just packs in a great deal of action, emotion, and character.
Nancy said: besides saying Ward Just is too good to miss, she mentions Stringer as another book by him.
Playlist: Brunis, Zutty, George Mitchell, Alcide Pavageau, Fitzhugh, Kid Ory, Sassoon, and the Oliver Band.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Ward Just: Too Good To Miss” (p 135).
Symmes, Patrick. Chasing Che: a Motocycle Journey in Seach of the Guevara Legend. Vintage Departures, 2000.
Reason read: celebrating the last full month Che Guevara was alive (he died in early October 1967).
There is so much mystery surrounding the life and times of Ernesto “Che” Guevara. His 1952 road trip from Argentina through Chile and up to Bolivia somehow changed him in radical ways. Patrick Symmes wanted to know more about that fateful trip, so why not trace Che’s footsteps and take the same exact journey? Che was on a motorcycle. Symmes would be on a motorcycle. Symmes drew not only from Guevara’s memoir, Notas de Viaje, as his guide, he was fortunate to have the road diaries of Guevara’s traveling companion, Alberto Granado, as well. [As an aside, often times, Notas de Viaje and Testimony: With El Che Across South America would contradict one another. I found it interesting that, more often than not, Symmes tended to believe Guevara over Granado.] Many people will be inspired to retrace the journey of someone else; to follow in their geographic footsteps, but Symmes takes his adventure to another level, searching out the exact places and people Che met along the way. His motto was “Be Like Che.” Would these same people remember the vibrant and charismatic young man? What could Symmes learn from them? By doing this, Symmes was able to meet with remarkable individuals, like Che’s former girlfriend who could not talk about Ernesto, the lover; Douglas Thompkins, the millionaire who bought up Patagonian land to preserve an ancient way of life; and even everyday people who kept Symmes rolling through the miles and navigating the harsh South American landscape. Symmes learned to tolerate drinking yerba mate and having discussions about Nazis in Argentina. He suffered dog bites, cracked ribs, barbed wire, and road spills. Most importantly, Symmes was able to be like Che. When Che mooches off individuals Symmes is able to apply the same tactics with somewhat similar success. The result of Chasing Che is more than a memoir and a travelogue, it is a love letter to one of the most influential people of the twentieth century.
Author fact: Symmes has his own website.
Book trivia: I wish there had been photographs.
Setlist of sorts: “Happy Birthday”, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, and Rage Against the Machine.
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Chasing Che.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “In the Footsteps Of…” (p 100).
Brennert, Alan. Moloka’i. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2003.
Reason read: Hawaii became a state in August.
There is no doubt that Brennert loves the Hawaiian islands. His knowledge of customs and beliefs run deep. Woven throughout the story of Moloka’i are the contradictions of Christianity versus native Hawaiian religion, the spirit of ohana and stories of sacred mythology, and last but not least, the misunderstandings and stigma surrounding what was then known as leprosy.
Rachel Kalama experiences the harsh realities of life when at only seven years of age she contracts leprosy and finds herself a prisoner on the island of Moloka’i. With the innocence only a child can possess, she is able to adapt and make the best of her situation, despite experiencing abandonment, prejudice, and fear surrounding her leprosy badge of shame. She makes friends easily although family dynamics change radically once her infection is confirmed. Only her father and uncle stand by her while her mother and siblings seemingly abandon her to her fate. As Rachel comes of age she navigates relationships with men with the same courage and tenacity. She learns what it means to be feared for her diseased and loved despite it.
As an aside, I couldn’t help but compare the treatment of leprosy with the first few months of the AIDS and Covid-19 epidemics. It is easy to see why in the late 1800s officials treated patients contagious with leprosy so aggressively. Fear dictated their decisions. The isolation, or arrest, of infected people is not unlike the quarantine of Corona virus patients. The stigma of leprosy is equal to the shame of someone testing HIV positive.
Author fact: Brennert worked as a writer-producer for L.A. Law.
Book trivia: I could picture Moloka’i as a movie.
Playlist: “Rock of Ages”, “Hawai’i Pon’i”, “Whiskey Johnnie”, “Blow the Man Down”, “Pua Alani”, Chopsticks”, “Frere Jacques”, Casruso, “Hali’alauni”, “Taps”, “Aloha De”, and “Autumn Serenade”.
Nancy said: Pearl called Moloka’i brilliant.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Hawaii” (p 93). Pearl also could have included it in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Men Channeling Woman”.
Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides. Bantam Books, 1986.
Reason read: the memory of how Conroy described summers in the south has always stayed with me. Read in honor of the end of summer.
“If Henry Wingo had not been a violent man, I think he would have made a splendid father” (p 5). That sums up The Prince of Tides in a nutshell. Well, sort of. No. Not really. I want to say it is about loving someone so fiercely you love well beyond any pain they could bring you. The writing of Pat Conroy is so beautiful it is hard to believe the subject matter of Prince of Tides could be so dark. The damaged Wingo family will stay with you long after you have closed the massive 600-plus page book. Most affected is Savannah Wingo, the sister-twin of Tom, who speaks to the hidden ones, hallucinates angels hanging from lamposts and self-mutilates herself to stave off the voice of her father urging her to kill herself. In reality, the bad times roll in as constant as the South Carolina tide for all of the Wingos. The entire family experiences enough unimaginable terrors to last a lifetime. To name a few: a father badly wounded surviving the horrors of World War II with a little help from a priest; Grandpa’s black widow spiders used as a defense from a stalker intent on raping Lila, the Wingo mother; four stillborn children one right after the other, each kept in the freezer like porkchops until it was time to bury them in the backyard; a tiger trained to rip someone’s face off…Probably the worst offense is not Henry Wingo, a father who beats his wife and children. The inexplicable nightmare is Lila Wingo, a woman so hellbent on keeping a prestine and proud reputation she denies every horror. Is this southern living or a perpetual seventh circle of hell?
Savannah is only partially able to escape her violent past by moving to New York City. After her latest suicide attempt is very close to successful, Savannah’s therapist calls Tom, her twin brother, for insight into the Wingo family. In order to help Savannah Dr. Lowenstein needs to dig deeper into the entire family’s tumultuous history. What emerges is Tom’s own tragic story of coming of age as a souther male in an abusive household. In the beginning of Prince of Tides, the character of Tom Wingo was only slightly annoying with his “American Male” posturing. But by page 300 you realize after all that he and his family have gone through he is allowed to tell jokes when it hurts. He has survived by humor his entire life.
Conroy’s Prince of Tides is a strange love letter to the Southern way of life. It is a story of tenacity and tenderness.
As an aside, Savannah’s mysteries were so intriguing I kept a list:
- Dogs howling
- Spiders – the Wingo kids unleashed black widows on a man intent on hurting their mother.
- White house
- Caged tigers – Casaer the tiger.
- Three men – three rapists
- Woods – the forbidden property surrounding Callandwolde
- Callanwold – the rich people’s mansion in Atlanta, Georgia. Soon became code for a stalker who attacked Lila and her family.
- Rosedale Road
- Taps for TPot
- Brother’s mouth
- Caesar – the tiger
- Red pines
- Gardenias – the flowers Lila wore in her hair
- Giant – the 7′ man who tried to rape Lila
- Coca Cola – the owners of Coca Cola lived in Callanwolde
- Seals – another of father’s gimicks
- “a root for the dead men by the crow”
- Talking graves
- Snow angels
Haunting quotes to quote, “But there is no magic to nightmares” (p 7) and “We laugh when the pain gets too much” (p 188), and “Rape is a crime against sleep and memory; its afterimage imprints itself like an irreversable negative from the camera obscura of dreams” (483). There were many, many, many other lines I liked. Too many to mention here. Just go read the book for yourself.
Author fact: Pat Conroy also wrote Beach Music. It is not on my Challenge list, but I read it.
Book trivia: I think everyone knows the 1991 movie starring Nick Nolte and Barbra Steisand. In fact, this is one where a scene I vividly remember is NOT from the book.
Playlist: Bach, Vivaldi’s Chaconne, John Philip Sousa March, “Dixie:, “The Star Spangled Banner”, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”, “Pomp and Circumstance”, the Shirrelles, Jerry Lee Lewis, and “Blessed Be the tie that Binds”.
Nancy said: Pearl called Prince of Tides the definition of dysfunctional, a chronicle of dysfuntional families, a good “if not necessarily instructive on what mothers ought not to do” (Book Lust p 160), and “an interesting portrait of therapists of all stripes…” (p 221).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in a ton of places. First, in the chapter called (obviously), “Families in Trouble” (p 82), “Mothers and Sons” (p 160), “100 Good Reads Decade By Decade: 1980” (p 179), “Southern Fiction” (p 222), and “Shrinks and Shrinkees” (p 221).
Tearne, Roma. Mosquito. Europa Editions, 2008.
Reason read: Sri Lanka’s President Rajapaska’s party wins majority in elections (August 2020).
Mosquito has been compared to The English Patient and Atonement because of its theme of love in a time of war. Sri Lanka is a country torn apart. The Liberation Tigers want a separate Tamil state. Everyone is supposed to speak Singhala, the national language. There is violence over this mandated language. Mosquito is exquisite in its portraits of people. Each person lives and breathes with vitality. Notable author Theo Samarajeeva has fallen under the spell of a teenage artist (twenty-eight years his junoir) and, despite the growing conflicts, is brazen enough to think his fame will keep him safe. His latest book is being made into a movie. Teenaged Nulani Mendis (modeled after the author?) lost her father to the conflict. With a brother who can do no harm, a difficult uncle and an overbearing mother at home, Nulani finds solace and happiness painting Theo’s portrait over and over again. But she has also attracted the attention of Liberation Tiger convert, teenaged orphan Vikram. To watch Vikram being groomed and manipulated was hard. My favorite character was Sugi, Theo’s manservant who had become an unusual friend to the famous writer. His character is critical to the love affair between Theo and Nulani.
Tearne has captures poignant elements of grief. The not wanting to be near reminders of a loved one forever gone is very familiar to me. My only eye-rolling comment is the repeated insistence that 17-year-old Nulani is “wise beyond her years” as if this makes it okay for a man 28 years her senior to be attracted to her. My confessional: at the end of the book I wanted the fairytale ending. I didn’t care about the age difference and felt petty for doing so in the first place.
Lines I liked, “In this short intermission between twilight and darkness, a mysterious transformation had occured” (p 106) and “How many lives does a man have to live before he can finally be at peace?” (p 131). A little Bob Dylan, anyone?
Author fact: which came first, Roma Tearne the artist or the author?
Book trivia: Mosquito was shortlisted fothe 2007 Costa First Novel Award.
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Mosquito other than to explain the plot.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Scenes From Sri Lanka” (p 196).
Norman, Howard. The Bird Artist. Picador, 1994.
Reason read: August is fly like a bird month… or someone told me.
From the very first page of The Bird Artist, Howard Norman wants to draw you into the story by having his main character, Fabian Vas, nonchalantly admit that he murdered lighthouse keeper Botho August. The hook is why. Why did seemingly quiet and charming Vas kill August? Why does he admit to it so readily and so casually? Norman will drop other mysteries along the way to keep the reader strung along. Like, why is it risky to write about Fabian’s aunt? Fabian lives in Witless Bay, Newfoundland. Ir all begins when Fabian befriends town troublemaker Margaret. As a thirteen year old she accidentally killed a man. Soon their relationship blossoms into the “with benefits” type despite his arranged marriage to a distant cousin. Maybe it is a cultural thing, but the curious thing about Fabian is that nothing seems to really faze him. His apprenticeship with bird artist Isaac Sprague is shortlived when Sprague disappears in the spring of 1911. Fabian blames himself for being too much a critic of his mentor’s work. When he is moments away from marrying a complete stranger and being arrested for murder almost at the same time, Fabian shows little emotion. His emotion amounts to getting a little nervous when law enforcement shows up. For all of Fabian’s calm, Margaret is his exact opposite. She was my favorite character. Motherless and meandering, Margaret sets fire to life’s challenges. You end up rooting for their dysfunctional relationship no matter what the cost.
As an aside, how can one person consume 20-30 cups of coffee? Is it normal for a father to talk to his son about sex with his wife?
The other characters:
- Dalton Gillette: Margaret hit him with her bicycle and he fell to his death. Mitchell Kelb investigated the case.
- Romeo Gillette: widower; son is Dalton; hosted the Canadian Thanksgiving; recovering from a heart attack; owns a store; town gossip; acts as messenger for the characters under house arrest; bought the murder weapon from Mitchell Kelb.
- Lambert Charibon: best friend of fathers; has a trout camp; doesn’t dream; supports Fabian’s artistic talents.
- Cora Holly: Fabian is engaged to her despite being related (she is a distant cousin).
- Aleric Vas: Fabian’s mother; has a sister named Madeleine; is four years younger than her husband; doesn’t like Margaret; is having an affair with the lighthouse keeper; while under house arrest she convinces Kelb to take her rowing; she broke Orkney’s heart.
- Orkney Vas: Fabian’s father; hunts birds for a living; is instrumental in Fabian’s murder trial; saddest character in the book.
- Isaac Sprague: birt artist; mysteriously disappeared in 1910; he was Fabian’s teacher by mail.
- Madeleine: Fabian’s aunt.
- Botho August: the murder victim; a man over 6′ tall; slim with blue-gray eyes; good at his job as keeper of the light; he listens to gramaphone records; paid for Margaret’s stockings; keeps to himself.
- Reverend Sillet: 55 years old; hires Fabian to paint a mural.
- Margaret Handler: 13 years old at the beginning of the story; dad bought her a bicycle; trades sexual favors with Fabian; four years older than Fabian; lives with her father, Enoch; mother died when she was seven; part Beothuk Indian; drinks a great deal of alcohol and can handle a gun. She was my favorite character.
- Enoch Handler: carpenter and boat builder; hunter and pilots boats; despises priviledge; of average height, solid build with black hair; has a brother named Sebastian; daughter is Margaret; owns and runs the mailboat; takes Fabian to be married to Cora in Halifax.
- Mitchell Kelb: constable; short man but in physically good shape; wears glasses; arrested Fabian on his wedding day; appointed representative magistrate at the trial.
- Boas LaCotte: owns the sawmill; nephew is Giles.
- Helen Twombly: owns the cold storage shack; is 80 years old in 1911; she is a widower; drowned; had an affair; Fabian paints her as a mermaid on his mural.
- Uncle Sebastian (Bassie): Orkney’s brother; he was a career bank robber; broke Orkney’s jaw as a kid; Fabian hasn’t seen him since he was seven years old; taller than Orkney.
- Paulette Bath: town librarian; she is a spirited woman in her late 50s or early 60s; she died when Fabian was 17 years old.
- Giles LaCotte: owns an apple orchard and sawmill with uncle Boas; present at the trial.
- Bridget Spivey: waitress at Spivey’s restaurant; short and lithe; in her 50s.
- Lemuel: cook at Spivey’s; 6’2″ with a pudgy face, blue eyes and brown hair; slovenly with bold humor.
- Odeon Sloo: new lightkeeper after Botho is murdered.
- Kira Sloo: new lightkeepers wife.
- Millie Sloo: new lightkeeper’s daughter.
- Mami Corbett: makes a fruit cake for the characters under house arrest.
- Llewellyn Boxer: deputy.
- Hagerforse: owns the guest house where Fabian and Cora are to be married; in her late 50s.
- Bevel Cabot: present at the trial
- Miriam Auster: present at the trial
- Ruth Henley: present at the trial
- Olive Perrault: present at the trial
- Elmer Wyatt: present at the trial
- Peter Kieley: present at the trial
- Patrick Flood: present at the trial; spoke at Botho’s funeral;
- Seamus Doyle: present at the trial
- John Rut: present at the trial
- Averell Gray: justice of the peace
- Alex Quorian: photographer for the wedding
- Peter Kieley: alerted authorities to the murder of Botho
- Darwin McKinney: dug Botho’s grave
- Mekeel Dollard: takes notes at the trial; might be the only one in town to own a photo album (and not Alex Quorian?).
- Arvin Flint – skipper of the doubting Thomas; former constable
- Andrew Kieley – child in the church
- Lucas Wyatt – child in the church
- Sophie Aster – child in the church
- Carson Synge – child in the church
- Emma Shore – child in the church
- Petrus Dollard – child in the church
- Sally Barrens – child in the church
- Marni Corbett – child in the church
- Arden Corbette – child in the church
- Philomene Slater – child in the church
- Chester Parmalee – child in the church
As an aside, I found it shocking that they ate puffins considering my only history with the bird is the conservation effort and subsequent tourist opportunity to see them nest.
Lines I really liked, “The eeriest thing about fate, it seems to me, is how you try to deny it even when it’s teaching you to kiss” (p 11) and “Nowadays, people have to travel to get important memories” (p 35).
Author fact: you would never know Howard Norman was born in Toledo, Ohio.
Book trivia: Bird Artist is the first in a trilogy. This is the only book I am reading for the Challenge.
Nancy said: Pearl said The Bird Artist is on her bookshelf and that she couldn’t imagine traveling to Newfoundland without reading it first. Of the trilogy, Pearl said The Bird Artist was the best. Finally, she included it in her list of books “not necessarily instructive on What Mother Ought Not to Do” (Book Lust p 160).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Newfoundland” (p 153). Bird Artist can also be found in abunch of place in Book Lust. First, in the chapter called “Canadian Fiction” (p 51), then in the chapter called “Mothers and Sons” (p 161), and in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade (1990s)” (p 179).
Nazzareno, A.H. The Villains Who Snapped My Back. 2022.
Reason read: As a member of the Early Review program for LibraryThing, I occasionally review books. Mostly memoirs and first novels.
Villain or villains is Nazzareno’s favorite word. Never mind it is in the title of his medical memoir and in the title of almost every chapter. He uses it to describe a postal route, ghosts, drudgery, a devil’s march, various entities, word repetition, cartoon characters, culprits, his commute, and sheep…to name a few. A cackle is villainous. There are assassin-dream villains. Look out for the wrath of villains. They consume his existence. Villains rig the game, villains mutate, villians play tricks, villains effed with his world, villains just show up, villains take extended coffee breaks, villains toss dynamite, villains are picking pocks, villains are catching up, villains get cocky, villains collaborate, villains are addicted, villains are made from mattresses, villains are subtle and insiduous. They are shaped like sausages. Hmmm…There is a number one villain (and I’m still trying to figure out how that one outranks all the others) yet Nazzareno asks at one point, “who are the villains?” I thought he knew because there seem to be so many of them. He would like to disband the villains, evade the villains, use Mormons and marijuna to deter villains; I could go on and on.
I have lost all sense of time when I read Nazzareno. The timeline bounces and stories are jumbled. Casinos, mattresses, a car accident, repotting a tree, snowmobiling in Maine with the in-laws, buying different vehicles. A random turkey on his mail route. Maybe he is trying to figure out just when the back problems started. Was it the car seat not being comfortable enough or that time he slid off the roof when trying to avoid an ice dam? Or the time he had to bury the cat in the yard? If I had a dollar for every time he mentioned the student loan…
Odly enough, my favorite parts are when he is describing his beloved southwest. I felt for him when a goverment job lands him and his partner in Virginia, or hvaing to shovel snow off a roof in Massachusetts, far away from the deserts of Arizona. If you know a happy place, be there now.
Book trivia: The Villains Who Snapped My Spine includes an illustration of he Cursed Lincoln.
Author fact: Nazzareno is represented by a grainy image at the end of the book.
Playlist: Modest Mouse, Mozart, “The Minute Waltz”, and Matt Bellamy’s “Exogenesis: Symphony”.
Simonson, Helen. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand: a Novel. Random House, 2011.
Reason read: August is Friendship month. The relationship that blossoms between Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali is beautiful.
Major Pettigrew is all about decorum, politeness, morality, honor, admiration, civility, loyalty, proper behavior. He shies away from anything sordid or not prudent. He has an obligation to society to be an upstanding citizen. So, what does it mean when he starts a relationship with a widow the village of Edgecomb would frown upon? Even moreso, this woman has a nephew who had a child out of wedlock! Talk about inpropiety!
Pettigrew is so uptight he has a thing for feet bare or in damp socks, especially if they happen to be on his floors. As an aside, it is difficult to read about the elderly being bullied about by their snotty offspring.
At the heart of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is the beauty of friendship, but it is also about moral standards and how being able to bridge differences can be a virtue.
Lines I loved, “A letter unposted ina huge burden” (p 194), “Perhaps home is mroe precious to those who leave” (p 362),
Author fact: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is Simonson’s first novel.
Book trivia: my copy of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand included a reader’s guide, a conversation with Helen Simonson, and a reading group list of topics for discussion.
Nancy said: Pearl mentioned Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand as an example of who would like another book, one that actually takes place in Poland.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Polish Up Your Polish” (p 182). Because it has nothing to do with Poland I removed it from the master Challenge list.
Hayward, Duncan. L. Time Traveling to 1982: Reliving a Very Special Year. Independent Publisher, 2022.
Reason read: I was 13 in the summer of 1982. I experienced my first true love that year. It was my last full year at home before I went to boarding school. I chose to review this book for the Early Review program because in my mind, 1982 was indeed a special year.
Confessional: I was looking forward to reading Time Traveling to 1982 because there are times I wish I could time travel back to the year of my first romance, my last year living at home, my first year of being a teenager. I can remember nearly everything about that year: the politics, the fashion, the food, the music (especially the music), and the sports. The only elements of entertainment I wasn’t “up” on were movies and television because I grew up without either.
Time Traveling was a disappointment. I was hoping for a thorough “reliving” of 1982. That would include fashion trends (hello neon), food (diet coke and onion soup mix, anyone?), sports of both genders (Steffi Graff!), along with the arts: books, music, theater, movies, dance. Beyond being more inclusive, I wished Time Traveling included more personal anecdotes. Why was 1982 a special year to Hayward? Beyond writing this for a friend turning forty, what does the author hold dear about 1982? I just had a thought. Was Hayward so selective because everything mentioned in Time Traveling was important to this friend and to hell with the rest of it?
What I did appreciate was the photography and the attempt at being international. I say attempt because, again, the thoroughness was just not there. Why include certain countries and exclude others?
Did this satisfy my desire to return to 1982? Partly. I had a good laugh remembering Ozzy’s antics with a bat and cried when reminded of James Brady getting shot in the head during the assassination attempt on President Regan (a detail not mentioned in Hayward’s recap of 1982). I was only thirteen but both of those events had a lasting impact on me. I felt sorry for the bat and the brain damaged Brady.
Stahl, Jerry. Nein, Nein, Nein!: One Man’s Tale of Depression, Psychic Torment, and a Bus Tour of the Holocaust. Akashic, 2022.
I honestly do not know where to begin when trying to describe Nein, Nein, Nein! For starters, did anyone else catch that the title of the book comes from a memory of having sex with a German girlfriend who liked dirty talk with a Jew? Full confession: I didn’t know the name Jerry Stahl before reading Nein and admittedly, after looking at his Wiki page, am only somewhat familiar with his work (as in I’ve never seen the shows, but have heard of them. Does that count?).
So anyway, the plot of Nein: what better way to get yourself out of a suicidal funk than take a holocaust bus tour? Stahl can write, there is no doubt about that. He is witty, cynical, sarcastic, and even dare I say, lyrically halarious? But he wanders like a drunk man in Walmart at 3am; one who can’t remember what he wanted to buy in the first place. I found myself asking why? most of the time. Why the reminiscence of the German girlfriend with the foul mouth? Why wax poetically about Trump as if he is the next Adolf reincarnate? Why so many references to Trump at all? Why meander through memories of a heroin haze? Maybe because all the ramblings are part of what prompted the trip in the first place.
The only way I can really describe Nein is to liken it to a 10,000 Maniacs tune, “What’s the Matter Here?” It’s got a catchy beat and soon you find yourself toetapping or even all-out dancing to a song about child abuse. Same with Nein. Stahl gets you giggling even though he’s telling you his trip to Auschwitz is an effort to avoid killing himself. You smile because it’s so uncomfortable. Maybe the squirm factor is exactly what Stahl is going for. In brief and far-between moments, Stahl is poignant. There are sentences about his vulnerabilities I sincerely hope he keeps.
As an aside, Stahl’s writing also reminded me of this incredibly funny friend I have. He’s always ON, if you know what I mean. He is a laugh a second, always coming up with the boomerang retort, the witty reply, and oh so funny remark. You’re laughing so much you don’t remembner to breathe. It’s exhausting trying to keep up with his comedic timing because it never stops. Stahl is like that. Always on.
Stahl’s playlist: Stray Cats, Al Green, “YMCA”, Wagner, Neil Diamond, Sid Vicious’s “Belsen was a Gas”, Sex Pistols, Lou Reed’s “Heroin”, Dauchau, Deko Dauchau, Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, and Under Dogs’s “East of Dauchau”.
Author fact: Stahl wrote the television show ALF while on drugs.
Flagg, Fannie. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. McGraw Hill, 1987.
Reason read: August is Friendship month.
After reading Fried Green Tomatoes you will swear you just made a whole bunch of new and memorable friends. The characters will stay with you long after the last page. At the heart of Fried Green Tomatoes is the story of a friendship between two women. Mrs. Threadgoode, living out her old age in a nursing home, befriends Evelyn who is only there to visit her ailing mother. Held captive by the incessant chatter of Mrs. Threadgoode, middle aged and weary Evelyn is introduced to 1930s Whistle Stop, Alabama and its ecclectic community. The more Mrs. Threadgoode talks, the more Evelyn wants to know what happened next. She begins to visit more and more, bringing gifts each time. Between the present day nursing home and the flashbacks is Dot Weems and her weekly “Whistle Stop Bulletin” full of town gossip and humor. Despite its feel good narrative, startling examples of bigotry and violence are a reality. The very real thorns among the roses. But, back to the heart of Fried Green Tomatoes – the characters: Tomboy Idgie Threadgoode was by far my favorite. She is passionate, wild, and carries a great sense of humor and love in her heart.
Author fact: I had to look this up to confirm Fannie Flagg was an actress, screenwriter, director, comedienne, as well as author.
Book trivia: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe was made into a well-known movie starring Kathy Bates as Evelyn and Jessica Tandy as Ninny Threadgoode.
Playlist: Art Tatum’s “Red Hot Pepper Stomp”, Bessie Smith’s “I Aint Got Nobody”, “Big Rock Candy Mountain”, “Buffalo Gal, Won’t You Come Out Tonight?”, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Ethel Waters, Hank Williams, “I’m going Home on the Morning Train”, “I’m in Love with the Man in the Moon”, the Inkspots, “In the Baggage Car Ahead”, “Jingle Bells”, “Life is Just a Bowlful of Cherries”, “Listen to the Mockingbird”, “Nola”, “On the Good Ship Lollipop”, “Red Sails in the Sunset”, “Sheik of Araby”, “Smoke Rings”, “Stars Fell on Alabama”, “Sweet By and By”, “Tuxedo Junction”, “Wedding March”, “When I Get to Heaven, I’m Gonna Sit Down and Rest Awhile”, and “White Birds in Moonlight”.
Nancy said: Pearl mentioned Fried Green Tomatoes as another book exploring women’s friendships.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Women’s Friendships” (p 247). Also in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Southern Friend Fiction: Alabama” (p 205).
Saint-Exupery, Antione de. The Little Prince, 75th Anniversary Edition. Translated by Richard Howard. Editions Gallimard, 2018.
Reason read: July is considered Children’s Book Month.
The preface to this review is that I somehow picked up the 75th anniversary edition of The Little Prince. In addition to reading a cute short story designed for children of all ages, I am reviewing the history, making, and perceptions of the classic tale. It includes Saint Exupery’s biography, tons of beautiful photographs, and fourteen appreciation essays. Really cool. The story of The Little Prince starts with a downed aviator (probaly Saint-Exupery himself), trying to fix his plane. He encounters a young boy, “the Little Prince” who asks him to draw him a picture. From there, the story blooms into a tale about a child’s relationship with adult realities. The child ends up being more mature than the adults he encounters. Grownups always need explanations.
As an aside, it brought a shiver to my spine when the Little Pricne asked the pilot if he fell out of the sky for that is how Saint-Exupery died.
Quotes I liked, “One must command from each what each can perform” (p 111) and”You risk tears if you let yourself be tamed” (p 153). This last line reminds me of Natalie Merchant’s line, “To pick a pick a rose you ask your hands to bleed.”
Author fact: to look at Saint-Exupery is to hear a French accent. His face is oh so France.
Book trivia: the French version of The Little Prince was translated by Vali Tamm and published in April 1946, two years after Saint-Exupery’s death. The 75th anniversary edition was supposed to have a free audio download, but the url didn’t work. I found another version (or maybe it’s the same one) on YouTube for the 70th anniversary.
Nancy said: Pearl said Saint-Exupery is best known for The Little Prince.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Flying Above the Clouds” (p 89). In theory, The little Prince should not have been included in this chapter unless you call living on a tiny planet flying high above the clouds…