Notes of a Native Son

Baldwin, James. Notes of a Native Son. Boston: Beacon Press, 1990.

Reason read: November is National Writing Month. I chose Notes of a Native Son under the category of essays.

I have to start off by saying Notes of a Native Son was way too short. I felt that Baldwin could have kept writing and writing. His essays held such clarity and truth they could have been written last year, last month, or even last week. Ranging from an analytical commentary of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin to remembering the time he was jailed in Paris for allegedly stealing a bedsheet, Baldwin expresses his place in society with the utmost frankness. The most tender of moments came when writing about his father, a man with which he had a complicated relationship.

Quotes to quote about hate, “Hate is a very fertile yet dangerous place from which to draw creativity” (p 37), and “I imagine that one of those reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain” (p 91). So true.
Another line I liked, “This seals the action off, as it were, in a vacuum in which the spectacle of color is divested of danger” (p 45).

Author fact: Did you know Baldwin was a preacher for three years, from the age of 14 to 17, or that he was a waiter at 22?

Book trivia: Baldwin talks about writing his first novel. It was interesting to hear about the process.

Nancy said: Pearl said Baldwin is an essayist not to miss.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Essaying Essays” (p 80).


Beowulf

Anonymous. Beowulf. Translated by Seamus Heaney. New York: W. W. Norton, 2001.

Reason read: Another Halloween story.

Everyone raves about Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf and I have to wonder, is it just the translation or could the accompanying gorgeous illustrations and photography have something to do with it? Everyone knows the story of Beowulf the mighty warrior from an English lit class. As a poem, it is the courageous story of a man who learns of a King’s annual nightmare. A monster named Grendel destroys fifteen knights a year without fail and has been doing so for the past twelve years. Beowulf, upon hearing this sad tale, takes it upon himself to vanquish Grendel only to face Grendel’s vengeful mother. Yeah, he kills her, too. Then there’s the fire-breathing dragon (think Bilbo Baggins) who tragically wins over Beowulf. In truth, I had forgotten the graphic violence of men being mauled by the monster Grendel. The clash is pretty dramatic. It would make a great movie. Wait. Knowing my knowledge of movies…it probably is.

As an aside, I have to wonder if this was ever made into a movie? Think about it. The battles full of violence…the claw of Grendel’s as a trophy. What a great prop for the big screen!

Lines I liked, “But it was mostly beer doing the talking” (p 37),”He is hasped and hooped and hirpling with pain, limping and looped in it” (p 65). Even though hasped and hirpling are not used in everyday vocabulary, you can envision the monster in sever pain.

Author fact: No one has ever been given credit for writing Beowulf although hundred of people have translated it.

Book trivia: Heaney’s translation won the Whitbread Award.

Nancy said: Pearl said Heaney’s translation of Beowulf beautiful.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Poetry: a Novel Idea” (p 186).


Carrie

King, Stephen. Carrie. New York: Doubleday, 1974.
King, Stephen. Carrie. Read by Sissy Spacek. New York: Recorded Books, 2005.

Reason read: Halloween is in October. Not much is scarier than Stephen King. Read in his honor.

The absolute scariest thing about most Stephen King novels is that they are only slightly out of the realm of impossible. With a little twist of science and magic any of his stories could be reality. Take Carrie: could a girl with telekinesis powers; one who is bullied relentlessly at home and school, be pushed to the point of a colossal psychotic break; one which causes her to go more than a little berserk? Well, sure. Especially if this same said girl has an overly devout yet highly paranoid mother who loves her to the point of fanatic torture. Most definitely.
Carietta “Carrie” White was bullied and tortured all through grade, middle, and high school. For her schoolmates she was an easy target with her abundance of acne, weird ill-fitting clothes, severe lack of hygiene, and apparently absent communication skills. Her uncomprehending grunts and blank stares only fueled their taunts. Unfortunately, there is one classmate who wants to make it up to Carrie.
What makes Carrie so scary is how King intersperses the story with snippets from psychological papers regarding Carrie and her telekinesis. These interruptions give a sense of reality to the horror.

Author fact: Carrie was King’s first novel and it launched him into stardom.

Book trivia: Carrie was made into a movie in 1976 and are you ready for this, I actually saw it. There was another remake in 2013 which, you guessed it, I didn’t see.

Playlist: “Hey Jude,” “Stars and Stripes Forever,” “Just Like a Woman,” and Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Let the Lower Lights Be Burning.”

Nancy said: in general Pearl said horror was her least favorite genre and she mentioned Carrie.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 213).


Jurassic Park

Crichton, Michael. Jurassic Park. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990.

Reason read: October is National Dinosaur Month. What better book to read than something that combines dinosaurs with a little Halloween scariness?

It is hard to imagine that in Jurassic Park only 24 hours pass on a remote Costa Rican island. Deep in the jungle lies a high-tech amusement park built by greed and commercialized genetic bioengineered DNA. The main attraction? Living, breathing dinosaurs supposedly super safe behind huge moats, tall electric fences, and concrete walls so thick they rival World War II fortresses. What could possibly go wrong with fifteen species of cloned, female dinosaurs? The engineers supposedly thought of everything. They thought wrong. Everyone knows the rest of the story, either through reading the novel or watching the movie. I will say that one reviewer called Jurassic Park “tornado-paced.” They were not wrong.

As an aside, I found Lex to be the most annoying creature on earth. Maybe that’s why I don’t have kids. She watches a dinosaur attack a man and she whines she is hungry. She nearly dies herself and whines that she is hungry. Give the kid some fries!

Author fact: Crichton is a powerhouse of a writer in the literary world. I am only reading Jurassic Park for the Challenge but he has written best sellers like Andromeda Strain, Terminal Man, Great Train Robbery, Congo, and Sphere as well as some nonfiction.

Book trivia: Jurassic Park made its way to the big screen in 1993 where it was an instant success. The sequel came four years later. Thus a franchise was born with four more Jurassic movies produced between 2001 and 2019. A fifth Jurassic is promised for 2022.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Jurassic Park. She only mentioned Crichton as a horror writer.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 213).


Catch-22

Heller, Joseph. Catch-22. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.

Reason read: I started reading this in September but I can’t remember why. I learned that the paperback version was released in the month of October so I’ll go with that.

This is the anti-war anthem of baby boomers. Army Air Corps Captain John Yossarian can’t stand flying missions even though he’s a trained bombardier. As a pacifist, he will do anything to avoid combat missions. Most of Catch-22 is Yossarian constantly getting caught up in red tape and dealing with crazy people in even crazier situations. The combination of multiple points of view and no sense of chronology drove me crazy. Admittedly, I did not finish Catch-22 even though it’s a pretty short and easy to read book. I got caught up in how disorganized it all seemed to be. As an aside, I was talking to the president of my institution and was pleasantly surprised to learn he didn’t care for Catch-22 either. He was as lost with the absurdity of it all as I was. To me, it was the repetition. I am not a fan of hearing something a thousand times ten different ways.

Quotes to quote, “Men went mad and were rewarded with medals,” and “Hungry Joe was a throbbing, ragged mass of mobile irritability.”

Author fact: Joseph Heller’s first novel was Catch-22.

Book trivia: Catch-22 was made into a movie in 1970 starring Art Garfunkel, Orson Welles, and John Voight. Of course, I haven’t seen it. Is anyone surprised? It would drive my husband absolutely crazy to know this is on my list. He loves war crap.

Playlist: “The Star Spangled Banner”

Nancy said: Pearl mentioned Catch-22 because the plot is similar to Kafka’s The Good Soldier Svejk and His Fortunes in the World War. They are both black comedies about an unwilling soldier dealing with bizarre military bureaucracy.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Czech it Out” (p 70). Since Catch-22 has nothing to do with the Czech Republic, it shouldn’t be in the chapter.


Everything That Rises Must Converge

O’Connor, Flannery. Everything That Rises Must Converge. New York: The Library of America, 1988.

Reason read: September is Southern Writers Month.

Flannery O’Connor’s short stories are like the crack of the whip dangerously close to your head. Sometimes humorous, sometimes peculiar, often times violent, but always breathtakingly true. Imagine the nervous laughter that bubbles up when you realize that whip has missed your face. You laugh because you want it to be a skillful miss as opposed to a clumsy mistake. Imagine the quirkiness of characters who are dangerously misunderstood. There is always something a little sinister about O’Connor. She enjoys the abrupt turn of events that take her readers by surprise. She holds us witness to the good, the bad, and the ugly of humanity.
Everything That Rises Must Converge is a compilation of nine short stories:

  • “Everything That Rises Must Converge” – we start with the discomfort of a mother’s obvious prejudice.
  • “Greenleaf” – a fight over property and propriety.
  • “A View of the Woods” – a punch to the gut when you least expect it.
  • “The Enduring Chill” – another tale about an overbearing mother.
  • “The Comforts of Home” – mother and son disagree about taking a brash girl into their home.
  • “The Lame Shall Enter First” – a widower tried to take in a second son with horrible results.
  • “Revelation” – another story heavy on the racism.
  • “Parker’s Back” – a man obsessed with tattoos
  • “Judgement Day” – an elderly and racist father is terrified of dying in New York City.

Quotes I liked, “There was a continuous thud in the back of Asbury’s head as if his heart and got trapped in it and was fighting to get out” (p 565), and “Behind the newspaper Julian was withdrawing into the inner compartment of his mind where he spent most of his time” (p 603), and “In addition to her other bad qualities, she was forever sniffing up sin” (p 655).

Author fact: Flannery O’Connor died too young at the age of thirty-nine. Imagine the books and stories she could have written had she lived to a hundred!

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Everything That Rises Must Converge in “Growing Writers” or “Southern Fiction” but she did mention O’Connor as a great fiction-writer and a classic.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust twice. Once in the chapter called “Growing Writers” (p 107), and again in the chapter called “Southern Fiction” (p 222).


Confederacy of Dunces

Toole, John. Kennedy. A Confederacy of Dunces. New York: Grove Press, 1980.

Reason read: Why was this book on my list? I completely forgot. Probably something having to do with Hurricane Katrina.

Confederacy of Dunces is like cilantro: either you love it and you want it on anything and everything, or you hate it and you think it tastes like soap; you can’t come within ten feet of it. Meet Ignatius J Reilly, the trumpet and lute playing, obese and unemployed, lazy and insolent video gamer still living with his mother at thirty years old. He truly is the master of the deadly sin of sloth.
Reading Confederacy of Dunces was like playing the Untangle Me Game. You know, the one you play with string. Take twenty extremely long pieces of string, tangle them all around a room and then have twenty people chose an end to each piece of string. They must try to crawl over and under one another in an effort to untangle the mess. There are usually prizes at the other end of each string. Trying to follow the plot of Confederacy of Dunces was like trying to crawl under someone with extremely bad body odor in the hopes your entanglement will wind its way far, far away from the offending smell. Except. There was no prize at the end. I didn’t get it. In addition, I have a low tolerance for repetition and Confederacy is redundant on multiple levels. I will say, the best part of Confederacy was the culture of New Orleans. It lived and breathed like an unintended character. The parts about New Orleans I laughed about.

Line I liked, “When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip” (p 6). Okay. Funny.

Author fact: John Kennedy Toole at thirty-one committed suicide in a remote field. Maybe he was too much like Ignatius and couldn’t find his way to success.

Book trivia: Many different people have tried to make A Confederacy of Dunces into a movie. I don’t think it has happened yet.

Nancy said: Pearl said that A Confederacy of Dunces is an example of “What Mothers Ought Not to Do” (p 160). She also called it a “raucous tragicomedy” (p 168).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Mothers and Sons” (p 160) and again in the chapter called “New Orleans” (p 168).


Friends and Heroes

Manning, Olivia. Friends and Heroes. New York: New York Review Books, 1966.

Reason read: to finish the series started in June in honor of the Bosnian War.

When we catch up with the newlyweds, Guy and Harriet Pringle, they have escaped the Balkans to Athens, Greece. World War II is ramping up. Mussolini is ever encroaching yet the Greeks refuse to believe the Italians could invade them. No! Not them! In the midst of a global conflict, the Pringle marriage is also at conflict. Harriet still hungers for Guy’s attention. It’s a little off-putting how needy she is. Having escaped Bucharest Harriet believes her husband will finally put her first. She is not the outsider in Greece as she was in the Balkans. However, Guy continuously lives for the undivided attention of his students no matter where he is relocated. As an unemployed lecturer, he fills his time putting on plays with his admiring students and friends. He is so preoccupied with their rapt attention he doesn’t notice or care that his wife slips away for long walks. In truth, he often encourages it. His continual pawning her off to other companions soon leads to her actively seeking out a new crush. The Pringle marriage is so trying that I wanted her to go with the man who seemed to love her back.
This being the third installment of the Balkan Trilogy, many characters remain. Yakimov and his greed end up in Greece. I found his character to be an exaggerated caricature: always hungry and riling people. But speaking of characters, Manning is able to make all of her characters give a political commentary on World War II without having the rely of detailed descriptions. It is all in their dialogue.

Quotes to quote, “He only had to arrive to take a step away from her” (p 654), “No one would dance while friends and brothers and lovers were at the war” (p 657), and “She told herself that animals were the only creatures that could be loved without any reservation at all” (p 962).

Author fact: Manning lived the life of Friends and Heroes. She and her husband spent the war years in Rumania before escaping to Greece and then Egypt.

Book trivia: Friends and Heroes could be a stand-alone novel, but is best read as the finale of the Balkan Trilogy.

Playlist: “Tipperary,” “Yalo, Yalo,” “Down By the Seaside,” “Clementine,” “Bells Rang Again,” and “Anathema,”

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about Friends and Heroes. It’s not mentioned at all.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Good Reads, Decade by Decade (1960s).


Lindbergh

Berg, Scott A. Lindbergh. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1998.

Reason: Charles Lindbergh died in the month of August – read in his memory.

From the moment Charles Lindbergh watched the Aeronautical Trials at Fort Meyer in June of 1912, he was hooked on planes and flying. Watching the maneuvers sparked his young mind’s imagination. Fast forward fifteen years and May 21st, 1927 is a date for the record books. It is the date Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, nonstop between America and Europe.
As an aside, I think it’s fantastic that Lindbergh made the Spirit of St. Louis trip in 33 hours, 30 minutes and 30 seconds. That’s one for the numerophiles. From that moment on Lindbergh became a global sensation. Like a folk hero, dozens of songs and poetry were written for and about him. A dance was created in his name. People wrote books and plays about his achievement and clamored to have a piece of his fame for their very own. For men and women alike, touching him was like experiencing nirvana. To talk to him was like seeing the face of God. He was that famous.
But Charles Lindbergh was not just a pilot. Flying aside, he became interested in finding a way to transplant body organs safely. He became interested in Anne Morrow, enough to marry her and have a son. Thus began Lindbergh’s second bout with unwanted notoriety. When his first born son was kidnapped and killed the entire world was rapt with the horrific drama. Every update had people sitting on the edge of their seats. How could this happen to a famous colonel? When the tragedy had come to its terrible conclusion Lindbergh wanted to give up all aspects of aviation. It all led to publicity. The fame and notoriety got to be too much. Then came the Louise Brooks-like slide into scandal. The world was positioned for another Great War and this time Lindbergh was making headlines for all the wrong reasons. He had been enamored with the Germans for their ingenuity for a long time, but siding with them at this tumultuous time was the absolute wrong move. Berg’s biography of Lindbergh is thorough and compelling through the good, the bad and the ugly.

As another aside, Berg reports Anne’s mother, Elizabeth Morrow, was a “prime exemplar of someone who devoted her life to public service through volunteerism.” That’s all well and good, but if my annual income from only interest and dividends from stocks and bonds was approximately $300,000 (in 1930s dollars), I too would be spending a great deal of time volunteering. If I didn’t need to punch a time clock to pay my bills what else could I do with the hours of my day?

Author fact: Berg was the first and only writer to have been given unrestricted access to the Lindbergh archives.

Book trivia: Lindbergh includes three sections of black and white photographs.

Playlist: “Star-Spangled Banner,” “Marseillaise,” “When Lindy Comes Home,” “Der Lindberghflug,” “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” and “Eternal Light,”

Nancy said: Pearl points out Lindbergh contains a beautiful and moving chapter on Lindbergh’s flight.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Flying Above the Clouds” (p 89).


Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Lawrence, D.H. Lady Chatterley’s Lover. New York: Signet Classics, 1959.

Reason read: Let’s talk about sex.

You know a book is trouble when it’s published privately in Italy in 1928 and again in France a year later. It wasn’t published openly to the masses until 1960 when it was promptly banned across the world. The United States, Canada, Australia, India, and Japan all found fault with it. Finally, when it was at the center of a 1960 British obscenity trial, things came to a head. No pun intended. Not really.
Who doesn’t know this story? Lady Chatterley is an attractive upper-class woman married to an equally handsome man who happens to be paralyzed from the waist down. Connie is young, spoiled, and has certain…needs. Her husband says he understands, but a man and wife’s varying perceptions of the same marriage are striking. Clifford Chatterley doesn’t really understand the resentments of his wife. A poignant scene is when Connie watches a mother hen protect her eggs and feels empty. She wants a child. She wants a lover. She finds solace in the gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors, who lives on the grounds. His cottage is a short distance from the estate…It is the classic tale of class differences. Lawrence goes a bit further by exploring themes of industrialism (Clifford wants to modernize mining with new technology) and mind-body psychology (the struggle between the heart and mind when it involves sexuality, especially when it is illicit in nature). The ending is ambiguous, as typical of Lawrence’s work, but it ends with hope.

As an aside, I would have liked more insight from Connie’s sister, Hilda. Hilda helped Connie have her affair even though she sided with Clifford Chatterley. Another aside, I have often wondered how many people self-pleasured themselves with Lady Chatterley or her lover. Wink.

Lines I liked, “What the eye doesn’t see and the mind doesn’t know doesn’t exist” (p 18) and “If I could sleep with my arms round you, the ink could stay in the bottle” (p 282). Sigh. So romantic.

Author fact: Lawrence went into self-imposed exile because he refused to stop writing about the human condition. His critics couldn’t handle the truth and often banned or censored his work. Lady Chatterley is rumored to be autobiographical in some places.

Book trivia: The genre for Lady Chatterley’s Lover is literary erotica and yet some libraries (including my own) catalog this in the juvenile section. True story. I happen to be reading the Signet Classic edition which is the only complete unexpurgated version authorized by the Lawrence estate. According to the back cover, “no other edition is entitled to make this claim.”

Nancy said: Pearl included Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the list of “stellar” examples of literary erotica.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Sex and the Single Reader” (p 218).


Playing Ball on Running Water

Reynolds, David K., Playing Ball on Running Water: the Japanese Way to Building a Better Life. New York: Quill, 1984.

Reason read:

Morita psychotherapy is Japan’s answer to Freud. There are so many different takeaways from Playing Ball on Running Water. How about this: live life. Don’t think about it or talk about it. Just live life. How about that for simple?
Think about this philosophy: you can never step into the same river twice. As you can tell, this short book resonated with me in more ways than I expected. I struggle with procrastination (otherwise known as avoidance) and social anxiety. Reynolds addresses both. On a personal level the strange phenomenon is once I address the issue I had been previously avoiding I am pleasantly surprised at how easy completion turned out to be. Like going to a party for example. I dread the arrival, but on the way home I’ll reflect on the event, and ultimately be pleased with myself that I went. My takeaway is to be as present as possible. Sometimes, paying very close attention and staying focused will clear the mind. A tea ceremony, for example, is set at a very deliberate pace. There is no rushing the event and each moment is well-practice, providing a safe space for familiarity.
The second half of Playing Ball on Running Water is a series of short stories that illustrate the Moritist principles. The entire book is constructed to help the reader play ball on running water.
As an aside – another interesting aspect of awareness is the art of combining different foods to make unusual meals for variety. Would peanut butter and pickle sandwiches count?

Lines I liked, “When our attention is alert to notice what reality has brought to us in this moment and to fit ourselves to it by doing what needs to be done, we are living fully during each of those waking hours” (p 56), “Risk and struggle are essential to life” (p 60), and “…I know that these tactics for playing ball on running water are helpful for the extremely sensitive person” (p 96).

Author fact: Reynolds lived in Japan for awhile and spent time in Zen Buddhist and Tendai Buddhist temples.

Book trivia: Playing Ball on Running Water is less than 180 pages but it took me almost a month to read.

Nancy said: Pearl called Playing Ball on Running Water nontechnical, practical, and compelling.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the presumptuous chapter called “Help Yourself” (p 109).


Infinite Jest

Wallace, David Foster. Infinite Jest. New york: Back Bay Books, 2009.

Reason read: I picked this up in honor of Wallace’s birth month. Take note of the date.

To be honest, the sheer size of this book was daunting even before I cracked it open. Add to its heft four complicated subplots, over 380 footnotes, corporate sponsorships, and a futuristic timeline and I waved the white flag. I didn’t feel bad about my decision after I came across a YouTube video of Bill Gates explaining why he couldn’t be bothered either. the one element of Infinite Jest I thought I was missing out on was all of the references to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I think I would have enjoyed teasing out those details.
Plot One concerns a group of radicals from Quebec who plan a violent geopolitical coup.
Plot Two centers on a group of students in Boston all suffering or coping with substance addiction.
Plot three takes place at a tennis Academy in Connecticut.
Fourth plot is the history of the Incandenza family. All plots are connected by the movie “Infinite Jest” by James Incandenza, but are not in chronological order.

As an aside, when Bill Gates says he can’t be bothered to read Infinite Jest it makes you wonder why you’re reading it.

Author fact: Wallace attended Amherst College just down the road from me. The fact he committed suicide is a tragedy.

Book trivia: Infinite Jest has made an impact on pop culture with references in television and music.

Nancy said: Pearl called Infinite Jest an “excellent pomo book.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in one of my least favorite chapters called “The Postmodern Condition” (p 190).


The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Lewis, C.S. The Chronicles of Narnia: Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Reason read: July is Kids Month. Read in honor of being a kid at heart. I still love this series.

The beginning of the adventure in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe begins innocently enough. To avoid the bombings of World War II in London, four siblings are taken to Professor Digory Kirke’s expansive mansion in the countryside for safekeeping. On their first rainy day they decide to explore the many rooms of their new home in a rousing game of hide-and-go-seek. Lucy, the youngest, stumbles upon a room where the only piece of furniture in it is an old wardrobe. She decides it would make a marvelous hiding spot until she discovers, just beyond the fur coats, a whole new world. From here, the tale turns fantastical with a land under an evil spell of constant winter that never reaches Christmas, fauns and centaurs and giants, talking animals, and good and evil magic all around. Now that I have sufficiently reminded you of the story, you know the rest.
As a child, I can remember the scene with Aslan and the Queen scaring the beejeezus out of me. My eyes would skim that scene as if reading it faster would make it easier.

Author fact: Clive Staple Lewis has a website here. I especially appreciate the timeline of his life.

Book trivia: Everyone knows The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe as the first book of the Chronicles of Narnia. However, it is Lewis’s preference readers start with The Magician’s Nephew as the true beginning of the tale.

Nancy said: Pearl aid she could remember reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as a child.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the Introduction (p x).


Bruno’s Dream

Murdoch, Iris. Bruno’s Dream. New York: Dell Publishing, Co., 1969.

Reason read: Murdoch was born in the month of July (7/15/1919); read Bruno’s Dream in her honor.

Someone once said Murdoch’s books are full of passion and disaster. Exactly! At the center of Bruno’s Dream is the complication of family and all the confusing dynamics that can happen between members. The lust and the hate and everything in between spill out of Murdoch’s stories. The relationships surrounding protagonist Bruno are sticky, web-like, and ensnaring (pun totally intended as Bruno is a philatelist and arachnologist of sorts). Much like a spider in a web, he lays bedridden and dying, waiting for people to come to him. Most loyal to Bruno is Nigel. Of all the characters Nigel is the simplest. Throughout the story he remains uncoupled despite his best attempts. Knowing Bruno doesn’t have long to live, he urges Bruno’s estranged son, Miles, to visit his dying father. Son and father have been apart since Miles married an Indian woman much to Bruno’s disapproval. After the death of his first wife Miles remarries but his father has never met the second wife, Diana, due to the prejudicial falling out. Diana’s sister, Lisa, complicates Miles’s household when she arrives and Miles can’t help but seduce her. When it comes to women, Miles is a very busy man. More loyal to Bruno than his own son is son-in-law Danby, once married to Bruno’s daughter, Gwen. Gwen died before the reader picks up the story. As an aside, if you would like to keep track, three wives have died: Bruno’s wife, Miles’s first wife, and Danby’s wife. Danby at some point carried on a secret affair with Adelaide, Bruno’s nurse, but doesn’t stay faithful to her. Adelaide and Nigel’s twin brother also have an affair. Lots and lots of partner switching.
As an aside, I felt that nearly everyone in Bruno’s Dream was crazy. I didn’t really care for any of them.

Interesting lines, “The television had been banished with its false sadness and its images of war” (p 5), and “The flake of rust, the speck of dust, the invisible slit in the skin through which it all sinks down and runs away” (p 27). I’m not even sure I know what Iris is talking about here.

Author fact: Iris is not Murdoch’s true first name. It’s Jean. Like myself, she chose to go by her middle name.

Book trivia: Bruno’s Dream is Murdoch’s twelfth book and was short listed for the Booker Prize.

Nancy said: Pearl placed an asterisk by Bruno’s Dream to indicate it’s one of her favorites.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Iris Murdoch: Too Good To Miss” (p 161).


Spoilt City

Manning, Olivia. The Balkan Trilogy: the Spoilt City. New York: Viking Penguin, 1960.

Reason read: to continue the series started in June.

When we catch up with Guy and Harriet Pringle in the next installment of the Balkan Trilogy, the English newlyweds have been in Bucharest for ten months. Harriet is making friends despite being the newcomer to the region. Guy is as busier as ever trying to hold together his post as lecturer at University. Despite the German advancement, the Pringles refuse to show fear or flee the city; not even under the guise of a holiday. The presence of the Iron Guard puts the entire city on edge yet people are in denial, claiming Rumania is neutral and will never be affected by war. Even when Guy makes it onto a suspected terrorist list and the Gestapo roll into town, he is not worried. His bravado continues despite the fact others named on the terrorist list are either beaten or murdered one by one.
As an aside, now that Manning had set the stage in the first installment of the Balkan Trilogy, The Spoilt City‘s plot moved along much faster. Reading it didn’t feel as much of a slog.

Quotes to quote, “Freedom, after all, was not a basic concept of marriage” (p 351), “And yet, she thought, they were the only people in this spoilt city whose ideals rose above money, food, and sex” (p 390), and “Reflecting on the process of involvement and disenchantment which was marriage, she thought that one entered it unsuspecting and, unsuspecting, found one was trapped by it” (p 526).

Author fact: Manning was a striking person. Her eyes are simply haunting.

Book trivia: The Spoilt City is the second book in the Fortunes of War: the Balkan Trilogy.

Playlist: “The Swan of Tuonela,” “Capitanul,” “We’re Gonna Hang Out the Washing on the Siegfried Line,” and Beethoven’s fifth Pianoforte Concerto.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about The Spoilt City (or The Balkan Trilogy for that matter). It bears noting that The Spoilt City was not included in the index.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade: 1960s” (p 175).