Bryson, Bill. Notes From a Small Island: an Affectionate Portrait of Britain. New york: Harper Perennial, 1997.
Reason read: Bill Bryson was born in the month of December. Read in his honor.
There is a definite pattern to Notes From a Small Island. Bryson travels across the British countryside in a haphazard way. Randomly taking trains, busses, ferries and even on foot, he wanders through towns checking into hotels and then checking out the sights all the while making comments as he goes. This book will make you release a stray snide giggle or two. You may even, heaven forbid, laugh or snort out loud. Honestly, at times you won’t be able to help yourself. Bryson is snarky and silly; at times absolutely hilarious. If you smile even just a little at this, “It really ought to be called the nice Little Gardens Destroyed By This Shopping Centre” you know what I mean. I think in British terms they would have called Bryson cheeky and maybe even a little snobbish about his views of architecture, country cuisine, and Wordsworth, just to name a few. (Why he has such a problem with Wordsworth I’m not sure.) He does love the region although at times it is hard to tell. Eventually, the reader will start to realize Bryson’s humor often comes at the expense of somewhere or someone. As an aside, people thought my ex-boyfriend was terribly funny until they realized he was just being terrible. Bryson is the same way.
Quotes I found especially funny, “He’ll make a face like someone who’s taken a cricket ball in the scrotum but doesn’t want to appear wimpy because his girlfriend is watching…”
Author fact: I find Bill Bryson so be so worldly in character that for some odd reason the fact he is from Iowa amazes me.
Book trivia: Notes From a Small Island was made into a television series in 1999. It had six episodes and only lasted one season.
Nancy said: Pearl said Notes From a Small Island would be “the single best book I know of to give someone who is depressed…” (More Book Lust p 36-37)
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Bill Bryson: Too Good To Miss” (p 36).
Shamsie, Kamila. Burnt Shadows. New York: Picador, 2009.
Reason read: Confessional: this was supposed to be read in August for a myriad of reasons: Shamsie’s birth month, the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing, and the anniversary of India’s independence from British rule. Somehow I missed it in August but wanted it read before 2021.
Burnt Shadows spans 56 years, from 1945 to 2001 moving from Nagasaki, Japan to Delhi, India to Pakistan and New York, all the while addressing the political geography of the time. India’s independence from British rule serves as a subtle character in Burnt Shadows as it changes the identity of others. At the heart of the story is the necessity of identity: human culture based on the desire to belong somewhere. Every character in Burnt Shadows struggles with a spiritual homelessness and drifting identity. Consider main protagonist Hiroko Tanaka: she fled Nagasaki, Japan after the bombing. Right before the attack she was engaged to a German, but ends up marrying an Indian she meets at the home of her deceased fiancé’s sister in Delhi, India. A misunderstanding leads the couple to Pakistan where they have a son, Raza.
The story opens with the dropping of the bomb on Nagasaki. Hiroko Tanaka loses her fiancé in the blast. How ironic is it she only agreed to marry him that same day? How tragic! In time she makes her way to India and lands on the doorstep of Konrad’s half sister, Elizabeth Burton and Elizabeth’s husband, James. Reluctantly, they take in Hiroko. Sajjad Ashraf, from the province of Dilli, works as a translator for James and Elizabeth Burton and agreed to tutor Hiroko. A beautiful relationship develops between them.
Burnt Shadows is also about the unspoken observation of marriage; the relationships that fail and those that stand the test of time “until death do us part.” Elizabeth and James had small, invisible cracks in their relationship before Hiroko arrived. Hiroko and Sajjad barely knew each other before their hasty marriage and yet it endured.
The last third of the book is difficult to read in that the story moves from one of interpersonal relationships to one of political unrest. The events of September 11th, 2001 play an enormous part in the narrative. It is as if Shamsie has another message, one that she has been waiting for 200 pages to deliver.
Quotes to quote, “There was no moment at which things went wrong, just a steady accumulation of hurt and misunderstanding” (p 109), “She felt she had been waiting all her life to arrive here” (p 295),
Author fact: Shamsie has ties to the Northeast, having gone to Hamilton College in New York and University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Burnt Shadows but it is the last book mentioned in the chapter.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Sojourns in South Asia: Pakistan” (p 212).
Lawrence, T.E. Seven Pillars: a Triumph. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1935.
Reason read: Lawrence of Arabia was born in December. Read in his honor.
The title of Seven Pillars comes from the Bible, in the Book of Proverbs. This is Lawrence’s personal narrative about the Arab revolt during World War I. A caveat: with all personal narratives come author perceptions that aren’t necessarily aligned with reality. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars is no different. He used unreliable sources in the form of diaries, journals, field notes, and most unreliable of all personal narratives, his memories. Yet, Lawrence goes to great pains to explain the process of his writing. In the spirit of artistic creation this is much appreciated.
I would be remiss if I didn’t draw attention to the full page portraits and illustrations that are beyond fantastic executed in plaster, oils, charcoal, pencil, and photograph . Lawrence makes special mention of the artist, Kennington, who worked for five years on the majority of the illustrations.
As an aside, Revolt in the Desert is an abridgement of Seven Pillars.
Quotes to quote, “All men dream, but not equally” (p 24), and “Some of the evil of my tale may have been inherent in our circumstances” (p 29).
Author fact: All Souls College gave Lawrence “leisure” in 1919 – 1920 to write about the Arab Revolt during World War I.
Book trivia: Bernard Shaw critiqued Seven Pillars.
Nancy said: From Book Lust To Go Pearl said, “It goes without saying that any trip to Arabia should include reacquainting yourself with him” (p 23).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Arabia Deserta” (p 25).
Milne, A.A. Winnie-the-Pooh. New York: Yearling Book, 1954.
Reason read: Please do not quote me on this, but I read somewhere that Eeyore’s birthday is in December. Read in his honor if that’s true.
I had forgotten Winnie-the-Pooh started off as Edward Bear. Edward is a respectable name for a loveable, if not absent minded, practical, and decent bear. I didn’t know Pooh was a swan until Christopher Robin had other ideas and Winnie-ther-Pooh Bear was born. Who doesn’t know Pooh and his woodland mates: Eeyore, Piglet, Kanga, and Roo? The adventures they have in Hundred Acre Wood are legendary. To bring you back down memory lane- Pooh gets stuck in Rabbit’s door. Pooh and Piglet search for a Woozie. Eeyore misplaces his tail. Piglet is rescued during a flood. Pooh and Piglet want to trap a Heffalump. The gang goes looking for the North Pole. Eeyore has a birthday…Every story has Pooh being slow-witted and honey-sweet.
In addition to being nice and thoughtful Pooh has the attitude of Ready for Anything. We could all learn a thing or two from Winnie-the-Pooh.
Lines I loved: the musings of Eeyore, “Inasmuch as which?” (p 45); the wisdom of Christopher Robin, ” a little Consideration, a little Thought for Others, makes all the difference” (p 122), the kindness of Piglet, “It’s so much more friendly with two” (p 134). Yes, yes, and yes.
Author fact: After serving in World War I, Milne dedicated the rest of his life to writing stories inspired by his son, Christopher. Interestingly enough, another famous author of stories for children, Hugh Lofting, had a son named Christopher who was also an inspiration.
Book trivia: Winnie-the-Pooh was “decorated” by Ernest H. Shepard. I just love that. As an aside, I seem to have taken the character of Tigger the tiger for granted. I just assumed he was always part of the gang from the start. He is nowhere to be found in the first book.
Confessional: when I was in my early twenties I met a man who adored Pooh Bear and all Pooh’s friends. This man became my first and only summer romantic. Now, whenever I see anything Pooh related I think of him.
Nancy said: Pearl said when she thinks of islands the first thing that comes to mind is the chapter in Winnie-the-Pooh in which Piglet is completely surrounded by water. Not exactly a statement about the book…
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade by Decade (1920s)” (p 175). Also in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Oceania, or Miles of Isles” (p 164). The inclusion of this book in Lust To Go was a head scratcher for me. In this chapter the title, Winnie-the-Pooh, is italicized instead of bolded like all the other titles. But because it is included in the index I put it on my list.
Alvarez, Julia. In the Time of Butterflies. New York: Penguin, 1995.
Reason read: On November 25th, 1960 Patria Mercedes Mirabal (36), Minerva Mirabal (31), Maria Teresa Mirabal (25), and Rufino De La Cruz (37) were murdered. True story. Read in their memory.
Julia Alvarez framed In the Time of Butterflies around one truth: On November 25th, 1960 three sisters, known as “las mariposas,” died under very suspicious circumstances in the Dominican Republic. While their Jeep was found at the bottom of a steep cliff, their injuries told of a much different and violent death. Before their murders these courageous women were no ordinary citizens of the Republic. After being radicalized at University three of the four sisters defiantly joined an underground movement to overthrow the country’s tyrannical leader, Rafael Leonides Trujillo. Imprisoned for their activities, the women failed to see the warning signs when they are suddenly freed without fanfare. They don’t think anything amiss when their imprisoned husbands are moved to a more remote prison, forcing the sisters to travel a deserted mountain road to visit them. The story begins with Dede, the surviving Mirabal sister, who feels almost a sideshow freak. Every year on the anniversary of her sisters’ murders, some reporter comes calling to hear the sad tale. Because the narration of In the Time of Butterflies is told from the perspective of each sister, character development happens seamlessly. They take turns releasing their passions and convictions, sometimes in first person, sometimes in third.
In the Time of Butterflies is an extremely exquisite and tragic tale. As Dede says, “If you multiply by zero, you still get zero, and a thousand heartaches.”
Lines to linger over (and there were a bunch), “It took some doing and undoing to bring me down to earth” (p 120), “The kissing was bringing on waves of pleasure she feared would capsize her self-control” (p 204), “Even so, my voice threw sparks” (p 261) and lastly, “But if she had a ghost in her heart, she didn’t give out his name” (p 271).
Author fact: Alvarez also wrote How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents which I thought was on my Challenge list, but the only Alvarez I am to read is In the Time of Butterflies. Bummer.
Book trivia: While the deaths of the Mirabal sisters and their driver is a fact, Alvarez admits to filling in their personalities with her imagination.
Nancy said: Pearl called In the Time of Butterflies “heartrending.”
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Historical Fiction Around the World” (p 113) and in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cavorting Through the Caribbean: Dominican Republic” (p 52).
Morris, Jan. A Writer’s House in Wales. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2002.
Reason read: for the Portland Public Library 2020 Reading challenge. I needed a book for the category of transgender or nonbinary author. Jan was James until the 1970s. I love how Morris makes mention of her transition and how the Welsh have “kindly pretended that nothing ever happened” (p 59). The way it should be.
Everyone loves a funky house. Trefan Morys is as unique as they get: imagine a converted old stone barn with wood beams and a slate roof. Now imagine this: the horse stalls converted into two rooms, both being floor to ceiling libraries (because “the Internet is no substitute” for a good book). Model ships, strategically scattered everywhere. More books piled on the floor. I picture this house being cozy yet drafty with its upstairs view of the wild Irish sea; cozy yet sprawling with all of its secret nooks and crannies.
Confessional: I grew up surrounded by houses with charming names. Not the last names of owners, but fanciful [names] such as Treetops, Fairhaven, and Inkspot. Trefan Morys as the name of Morris’s house in Wales seems perfect.
Morris’s focus is not just on her house, but on her country’s people as well. She speaks of geographic history and how Indigenous Wales continues to struggle to keep an identity in the face of a barrage of British influence.
The hidden bonus is learning more about Morris as a person and not just a Welsh author who changed gender. She has a sense of humor. She has a partner who has stuck with her throughout it all. She is fearless: Morris is not one to back down from a challenge, climbing Everest to write about Edmund Hillary’s ascent, for example. Then there’s Ibsen, the cat. It’s all so charming.
There were so many lines I liked. It was extremely hard to narrow it down to just a few, but here are the ones I connected with the most: “I always think of music as means of communication across the continents and the ages” (p 97), “Music also seems to me one of life’s great reconcilers, an instrument of universal good” (p 98),
Author fact: Morris had a cat named Ibsen. Perfect. But…I should also tell you Morris is better known as a historian. The Pax Trilogy is also on my list.
Book trivia: I would have loved to see photographs of Trefan Morys. It just sounds like the perfect house. I did find a picture in a recent edition of ‘The Guardian’ and it only left me wanting more.
Nancy said: Pearl said A Writer’s House in Wales is “distinguished by [Morris’s] keen eye for detail, her fine writing, and her enthusiasm for her subject” (Book Lust To Go p 248).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Wales Welcomes You” (p 248).
Leon, Donna. Uniform Justice. New York: Penguin, 2004.
Reason read: to end the series started in September in
honor memory of plans to go to Italy. Fukc covid.
When we return to the Venetian world of Commissario Guido Brunetti he has found himself mired in the apparent suicide of a military cadet found hanging in a dormitory shower. It should be an open and shut case, but there is something about the death that doesn’t sit right with Brunetti. Moro’s father resigned from Parliament after Mrs. Moro was shot in an apparent hunting accident. Now Mr. Noro’s son is dead. Is this retribution for his meddling in a corrupt investigation? As usual, Brunetti”s boss, Vice-Questore Patta, is eager to move on. Looks like a suicide, smells like a suicide, so it is a suicide. Hog-tied by political play, Patta would rather Brunetti poke his nose elsewhere. Brunetti is forced to bend the rules in order to solve the mystery. It reminded me of how Brenda would stop at nothing to get a confession on one of my favorite television shows, The Closer.
Aside from the intriguing character of Guido Brunetti, Leon always illustrates Venice in a way that is mouth-watering and fills this reader with the yearning to pack her bags.
Author fact: Donna Leon was once a teacher.
Book trivia: Uniform Justice is #12 in the series, but the last one I will be reading for the Challenge.
Nancy said: Pearl said Uniform Justice is a “particularly good one.”
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “Ciao, Italia” (p 46).
Freud, Esther. Hideous Kinky. New York: Penguin, 1993.
Reason read: Morocco’s Independence Day is November 18th.
Esther Freud tells her autobiographical fiction through the eyes of a child. An emotionally untethered mother decides to leave dreary England for the exotic culture of Marrakech, Morocco with two young girls in tow. For money they rely on the kindness of strangers, selling homemade dolls by the side of the road, sewing clothes, and other small ventures. Occasionally and unpredictably, Lucy and Bea’s father would send money from London and they would eat well for awhile. While mother is exploring mysticism and unconventional relationships in the interest of self improvement, Bea and Lucy invent ways to not miss home and their father. Bea, being the elder, wants to replace London in Marrakech with school and stability. Lucy is young enough to want a replacement for the father they left behind. She sets her hopes on some interesting characters.
Quote that resonated with me, “She was the only person I knew who could turn off their ears like shutting an eye.” You, Esther Freud, have not met my mother.
Edited to add: there is a scene in Hideous Kinky that brings me back to a memory of my sister. I can’t unstick it from the walls of my mind. Maybe sharing it here will loosen the gluey nostalgia. One sister wants desperately to play with the other. She begs and begs until the other finally, reluctantly, and with great exasperation agrees. Pride steps in and the lonely sister stubbornly decides “too late!” I was the sister not wanting to play. Shut up in my bedroom with a good book, I clearly remember my sister’s little fingers poking under the door as she pleaded to please play with her. When I finally relented I flung open my bedroom door to find she had defiantly moved on. Touché, sister of mine!
Author fact: Freud is the great granddaughter of Sigmund. The celebrity degrees of separation doesn’t stop there. Freud is also the daughter of painter Lucien Freud.
Book trivia: Hideous Kinky was made into a movie in 1999 starring Kate Winslet. Nope. Haven’t seen it.
Nancy said: Pearl said absolutely nothing about Hideous Kinky.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “North African Notes” (p 158).
Kay, Guy Gavriel. The Darkest Road. New York: Arbor House, 1986.
Reason read: to finish the series started in September in honor of Fantasy month.
This is the conclusion of the Tapestry series. Rakoth Maugrim, the Unraveller, is busy assembling his armies for battle. Everyone knows magic must prevail…but will it? It all comes down to the decision of young Darien. Darien, who was born of Darkness and Light; half mortal, half god; good versus evil and so on and so forth. Darien still struggles with his identity. Because his mother insists on giving him space to work out his issues he feels lost and unloved. There is a lesson to be learned from this. Darien is left to his own devices, not because he isn’t loved, but because he is trusted to do the right thing on his own. Which side will be his? Enter Lancelot to be his protector from both sides of identity. There is a whole lot more that goes on in The Darkest Road. All the typical battles and trysts; atypical alliances and love affairs. The humans are in there, too.
Author fact: My next Kay book for the Challenge is The Last Light of the Sun, but I also have Under Heaven and The Lions of al-Rassan to read.
Book trivia: This is the last book in the Tapestry series.
Nancy said: Pearl mentions The Darkest Road in her list of critically acclaimed fantasy.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 213).
Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. A Chronicle of a Death Foretold. New York: Vintage, 2020.
Reason read: needed for the Portland Public Library 2020 Reading Challenge for a book that takes place in one day. I would say since this is a journalistic interview that takes place in one day, this qualifies…even though the story he is recounting takes place over a span of time.
Whenever there is an unidentified narrator I always think of the Great and Terrible Oz, hiding behind his curtain. In Chronicle of a Death Foretold our narrator is not a Baum-inspired little man, but rather an unnamed friend of the murder victim, years after the fact recounting the downfall of Santiago Nasar. As the title of the novella indicates, everyone knew Santiago Nasar’s life was in danger, but no one did anything about it. “There had never been a death more foretold” (p 50). As an aside, this could be a commentary on our society today. Everyone feels outrage – yet no one is stepping up to do something (anything!) about it. Distraction dictates the assumption someone else will take care of it. Or they are hoping so.
On the eve of Angela Vicaro’s wedding her new husband discovers she did not come to their marriage bed a virgin. Oh the shame! Outraged and humiliated, he drags her back to her mother who beats her severely until she confesses. When Santiago Nasar is named responsible for Angela’s deflowering, her twin brothers speak of revenge. They speak long and loud before they actually seek it. Woven throughout the entire story is the theme of foreshadowing. Even Santiago missed the signs of his own demise illustrated by his ominous dreams. He even misses the note slipped under his door. Then there is the obvious. The twins brag openly about how they are going to kill Santiago. A shopkeeper tells the murderers to wait until later out of respect for the bishop. The drunkards talk of the upcoming murder. Police officers ignore everyone. The church ignores, too. The entire community ignores the talk. Was it the distraction of the arrival of a bishop? Was it communal judgment that Santiago was getting what he deserved?
Quotes to quote, “The smallest, touched by the breath of tragedy, began to weep” (p 23), and “Furthermore, the priest had pulled out the sliced-up intestines by the roots, but in the end he didn’t know what to do with them, and he gave them an angry blessing and threw them into the garbage pail” (p 76).
Author fact: Marquez was a journalist before becoming a prize winning author.
Book trivia: Chronicle of Death Foretold is based on true events with a few changes.
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Chronicle, but Marquez was omitted from the index.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Lines that Linger; Sentences that Stick” (p 140).
Snicket, Lemony. A Series of Unfortunate Events #2: The Reptile Room. Harper Perennial, 2004.
Reason read: to continue the series started in honor of Halloween and all things spooky.
The Reptile Room starts with a small recap of the first unfortunate event because it is important for the reader to know that Mr. Poe, a family friend from the bank, is still in charge of finding the Baudelaire orphans a suitable place to live. It is even more important to be reminded that Count Olaf escaped in the first Unfortunate book. When we meet back up with the children they have been shuffled off to their even more distance relative, Uncle Monty. Montgomery Montgomery is a world renowned herpetologist with a roomful of, you guessed it, snakes (hence the title of Book Number Two of the Series of Unfortunate Events). Of course, the snakes turn out to be the Baudelaire children’s downfall. I won’t say anymore than that.
True to form, the stylistic pattern for Lemony’s books is to constantly remind you to slam the book closed and not read another word; to go read another book if you want a happy ending. Dear reader, you also need to accept Lemony is going to define words every now and then. It’s all part of the schtick. It just is.
Lines I actually liked, “It is plenty difficult to wait for Halloween when the tedious month of September is still ahead of you” (p 27). Agreed. “You couldn’t tell how the Incredibly Deadly Viper looked, because the facial expressions of a snake are difficult to read” (p 67). Again, agreed.
Author fact: Last time I told you Lemony’s real name. This time I can tell you he was born in February.
Book trivia: I am reading an electronic version without illustrations so it’s only 78 pages long.
Nancy said: Pearl called the series “wonderful.”
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Not Only For Kids: Fantasies For Grown-Ups” (p 174).
Gunaratana, Bhante Henepola. Mindfulness in Plain English. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2002.
Reason read: During these crazy times I need to remember to breath; to be still. Read for me, myself, and moi.
The title of this book does not lie. Gunaratana offers a how-to for insight mindfulness in a straight-forward and easy-to-understand language. This is not the deeply didactic philosophy of mindfulness, but rather a deep dive into South and Southeast Asian Buddhism. The first order of business is to dispel the misconceptions surrounding mindfulness and meditation. For example, there is no magic to this vipassana style medication. You won’t levitate. Instead, you become grounded in morality, concentration, and wisdom. Speaking of concentration, you learn the concept of shallow concentration which seems contrary to successful mindfulness. In other words, you won’t lose yourself in mindfulness. Instead, you will train your mind to concentrate on a mental object, the breath being more convenient and ever-present. I am reminded of one of my favorite Natalie Merchant lyric from ‘Not in This Life,’ “Lately I’ve been satisfied by simple things like breathing in and breathing out.” Despite the easy language and thin volume, Mindfulness is a treasure trove of information.
As an aside, I have to laugh when Gunaratana advised not to sit in any one position for more than twenty minutes. Please! I can’t sit comfortably in any position for more than five, maybe ten minutes tops.
Quotes I loved, “Life seems a perpetual struggle, an enormous effort against staggering odds” (p 9), “What we face every day is unpredictable” (p 53), “Distraction cannot be seen as distraction unless there is some central focus to be distracted from” ( 77), and “Somewhere in the process, you will come face to face with the sudden and shocking realization that you are completely crazy” (p 82). Amen.
Author fact: Gunaratana was ordained as a monk at the age of twelve. Twelve! I shudder to think what I was doing at the age of twelve.
Book trivia: I can tell this book helped many people. My copy was dog-eared and heavily underlined.
Nancy said: Pearl said there was useful information in Mindfulness in Plain English. She goes on to say “Gunaratana’s book is much less theoretical, vis-a-vis Buddhist philosophy and psychology…but more practical and systematic in its presentation of technique” (Book Lust p 255).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Zen Buddhism and Meditation” (p 255).
Keith, Harold. Rifles for Watie. New York: Harper Collins, 1987.
Reason read: Veteran’s Day is November 11th, 2020. Read in honor of Civil War veterans long dead and gone but never forgotten.
One of the most interesting aspects of Rifles for Watie is that it is told from the perspective of multiple groups in and around the American civil war of April 1861 – April 1865. Keith visited actual battle locations to get a sense of the varying conflicts and not just the well known ones related to violent battle. Poverty, wealth, prejudice, pride, religion, gender, tribal feuding, slavery, freedom. Right or wrong, all of these issues collide.
Keith used diaries, journals, and personal letters to give Rifles for Watie first person authenticity. To personalize it even further, he used interviews conducted for his thesis. Between the years of 1940 and 1941 he visited with twenty two veterans and listened to their nostalgic reminiscing. These oral histories captured the large and small personal sacrifices of war. Ever in their debt, Keith was careful to give all twenty two individuals credit saying, “my obligation to all their memories is very deep” (Introduction, Rifles for Watie p 12). While General Watie and James G. Blunt were a real-life historical figures, the character of Jeffrey and the other soldiers in Rifles for Watie are Keith’s imagination; I would like to think of them as a creative combination of all the men Harold Keith interviewed.
My favorite segment was when Jefferey was having a passionate argument with Lucy. Every side of the conflict is laid bare; because there are more than two sides to every truth. Good guys aren’t necessarily all that good. Bad guys aren’t that bad. Dogs are just dogs.
An aside: My sticking point. Early on in Rifles for Watie Jeffrey’s family is violently attacked by rebel bushwhackers. The family manages to fend off the raiders, but not before the bushwhackers threaten a much more violent return. I was confused as to why Jeffrey would leave his family knowing they barely survived the first vicious attack. Yes, it gave Jefferey the impetus to join the war to fight the rebels, but what about his defenseless family back in Kansas? No matter. When he is home on furlough all seems fine and there is no mention of bushwhackers ever returning.
Author fact: Keith was dedicated to the state of Oklahoma where he was born, raised, lived, and died.
Book trivia: Rifles for Watie won a Newbery Award in 1958.
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Rifles for Watie except that it explores one of the least well-known aspects of the Civil War.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Historical Fiction for Kids of All Ages” (p 114).
Scanlin, Tommye McClure. The Nature of Things: Essays of a Tapestry Weaver. Dahlonega, Georgia: University of North Georgia Press, 2020.
Reason read: as part of the Early Review program for LibraryThing.
I chose this book because I want more art and, by default, more artists in my life. I know absolutely nothing of weaving, how to or otherwise, so I suspect I read this differently than say, someone who makes his or her living by weaving tapestries. I read this simply as an admirer of a beautiful textile.
Scanlin calls her book a collection of essays, but I prefer to think of it as a memoir: the emergence of an extremely talented artist. Told mostly through the lens of photography and illustrations, Nature of Things explodes with color and creativity. Remove the visuals and the early narrative would probably not survive.
The final part of the book moves away from memoir and becomes a primer for learning the basics of weaving, complete with a glossary, clear diagrams, and a list of resources.
As an aside, I was surprised by how much I had in common with Scanlin. what inspired her in Nature of Things are the very same things that catch my attention: trees, crows, rocks, shadows, flowers, feathers, ferns, even the fine winding tendrils of vines.
Note: According to the back cover of Nature of Things, it has been on sale for well over a month now. I received my copy on October 29th, 2020.
Berry, Wendell. Hannah Coulter. New York: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2005.
Reason read: Stick with me for a second because this will seem strange. I put Hannah Coulter in the November transgender category for the simple reason Keith does an amazing job writing in a woman’s voice.
There is a simple grace to the plot of Hannah Coulter. There is a simple grace to the character of Hannah Coulter, as well. You won’t find major conflict. You won’t tremendous disaster or upheaval. No crazy mood swings or dramatic tantrums. Hannah is simply an elderly Kentucky farmer nearing the end of her life, sharing her life story with an unknown audience. She has survived two husbands and the changing of her community, but really what she truly wants to talk about is love. Love as a parent, grandparent, farmer, Port William resident, and, most importantly, the wife of a tormented veteran. It is this last love that brings a change of tone to Hannah Coulter. It’s as if the entire book was written to support the chapter of Okinawa. Hannah tries to make sense of the war; to put it into a context she can understand. “You were living, it seemed, inside a dark cloud filled with lightning and thunder; thousands of tons of explosives, bombs and shells, machine gun and rifle fire” (p 169). Hannah puts it into a perspective the reader can understand. It is easy to forgot about the involuntary reactions of the body during fear and pain. Based on the animated and passionate voice, Berry seems to be the veteran in the two pages describing the Battle of Okinawa. He is that puzzle piece that completes the picture but doesn’t quite fit the space; as if the jigsaw didn’t cut the angles correctly.
Much like a yoga instructor asking practitioners to “breathe through their heart’s center,” I am asking readers of Hannah Coulter to read with heartfelt intention; to inhale the words gently and with a deliberate pace. It is well worth the effort.
As an aside, the imagery of the landscape and the people reminded me of a Josh Ritter song.
I could have quoted lines from Hannah Coulter for days upon days. The writing is that beautiful. Here are a few of my favorites, “You can’t give yourself over to love for somebody without giving yourself over to suffering” (p 171), “It was a time between times, almost a no time” (p 172), and “It was not a look a woman would want to look back at unless she was ready to take off her clothes” (p 219). I love how the subdued passion just smolders with that one sentence.
Author fact: Berry is able to channel Hannah’s voice in part because he is a Kentucky farmer.
Book trivia: Hannah Coulter is not the only book to feature the Kentucky town of Port William.
Nancy said: Pearl said nothing specific about Hannah Coulter.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust from the chapter called “Men Channeling Women” (p 166).