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).


Over the Edge

Brockmann, Suzanne. Over the Edge. New York: Ivy Books, 2001.

Reason read: to continue the series started in May in honor of Brockmann’s birth month.

If you have read any of Brockmann’s other Troubleshooter books you will know she has a formula for her plots. They all include Navy SEALs who are blindingly, devastatingly, glaringly, or outrageously handsome and the women they lust after, deeply love, or obsessively desire are all undeniably gorgeous, remarkably good looking, or intensely (or sinfully) attractive. Everyone, male and female, has exotic eyes or cheekbones, lush, full, or bee-stung lips, and they always, always, always a hard body to die for. No one seems to have an ounce of fat or ugliness or plainness anywhere. Despite everyone being impossibly beautiful that wasn’t what really bothered me. What irked me is the amount of sex on the brain. Someone could be talking about the abuse they suffered as a child but thinking lustfully about the person across from them. A murder could happen right in front of someone’s face and within minutes he or she has forgotten the death because they’re too busy trying to unzip their pants. Every couple seemed to be either arguing, miscommunicating, making assumptions, or having blistering hot sex. Seriously, there were so many sex scenes I started to skip them to the detriment of the plot. I don’t think it’s a spoiler alert to say the hijack rescue, despite taking the whole book to set up, was over in a matter of minutes. Oh yeah, back to the plot:
In Over the Edge the plot alternates between a present day plane hijacking and a forbidden love during the early days of World War II. Terrorists land a plane in Kazbekistan in hopes of trading hostages. The Navy SEALs are brought in to negotiate a rescue of an American Senator’s wayward daughter. The most interesting character who tied present day with the past was Helga Schuler, a journalist and Holocaust survivor who is losing her memory.

Author fact: Brockmann has written over fifty novels.

Book trivia: I got nothing.

Playlist: “Like a Virgin” by Madonna, “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman” by Aretha Franklin, Wynton Marsalis,

Nancy said: I like what Pearl said about Brockmann’s novels. She said Brockmann gives a “female slant to the James Bond ethos.” The characters are “sharply drawn” and the reading of her work is “interesting.” Too bad I didn’t agree when reading Over the Edge.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romance Novels: Our love is Here to Stay” (p 203).


Great Fortune

Manning, Olivia. The Balkan Trilogy: the Great Fortune. New York: Viking Penguin, 1960.

Reason read: the first Yugoslav conflict of the 1990s started in June.

The year is 1939 and Europe is seething with the threat of war. Germany has just invaded Poland and shows no signs of stopping. At the heart of The Great Fortune is newlyweds Guy and Harriet Pringle. Having just arrived in Bucharest, Harriet is shy and unknowing while her gregarious husband is back on old familiar stomping grounds. As an English professor and lecturer he knows multitudes of friends, students, colleagues, and old lovers alike. Driven by the political and military headlines of the day, The Great Fortune details civilian reactions: the chatter over coffee in cafes, the arguments behind bedroom doors, gossip in the streets. The blasé expatriate community regards the approaching Germans as a trifling that won’t affect them.
I am not sure why, but Manning’s first book of the Balkan Trilogy took me a long time to slog through. I didn’t connect with the characters; thought Yaki was downright annoying.
As an aside, the 1939 Hispano-Suiza was a sexy car. It looks like something Al Capone would have driven around in.

Author fact: Manning lived in Bucharest. Her experiences shaped the Balkan Trilogy.

Book trivia: The Balkan Trilogy and the Levant Trilogy form a single narrative called the Fortunes of War. I heard a rumor that the entire trilogy is autobiographical.

Playlist: Chopin, and Beethoven.

Nancy said: absolutely nothing about Great Fortune.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade by Decade: 1960” (p 175). Actually, to be fair, the individual books that make up the Balkan Trilogy were left out of Book Lust.


Love in the Time of Cholera

Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. Love in the Time of Cholera. Translated by Edith Grossman. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.

Reason read: June is the most popular month for marriage.

Confessional: I have a way more personal connection to this story than I rightly should. To scratch the surface and say I love John Cusack’s movies should suffice. If you haven’t seen Serendipity, suspend your belief in reality and let yourself get lost in the possibility of things happening for a reason no matter how absurd.

The game of chess is like the game of love, one strategic move at a time. Who waits for over fifty-three years to possess the woman of another? Fear not! Florentino Ariza has not waited patiently or chastely for Fermina. Despite staying in the town of their romance, Florentino has womanized his way across a broken heart. All the while he has never forgotten the girl who stole his soul so completely as a young man. Fermina Daza, for her part, has gone on to marry the region’s most distinguished men and remains brutally loyal all the days of her marriage. Star crossed lovers from the start, Florentino and Fermina orbit one another. This is the time of cholera. The illness mimics the passions of love with burning fevers and uncontrolled trembling.

When I am eighty-one years old will my spouse know my routine so well he can send a message to the correct location just by noting the time of day?

Quotes to quote, “She did not permit herself the vulgarity of remorse” (p 182),”Years later, when Florentino Ariza had the resources to publish the book himself, it was difficult for him to accept the reality that love letters had gone out of fashion” (p 208).

Author fact: Marquez was exiled in Europe in the mid-1950s for writing articles which had upset the Columbian government.

Book trivia: Love in the Time of Cholera in part tells the story of Maquez’s parents.

Playlist: Mozarts’ “La Chasse,” Schubert’s “Death and the Marden,” “In Questa Tomba Oscura,” “When I Wake Up in Glory,” Enrico Caruso,

Nancy said: Pearl said absolutely nothing specific about Love in the Time of Cholera.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Latin American Fiction” (p 145).


Testament of Youth

Brittain, Vera. Testament of Youth: the Autobiographical Study of the Years 1900 – 1925. New York: MacMillan Company, 1937.

Reason read: The United States entered World War I on April 6th, 1917. Additionally, I needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge in the category of historical event.

Confessional: this took me a long time to finish.

The world can thank Vera Brittain for keeping a detailed diary during World War I. Through her writings, Brittain is able to not only give a personal account of how the war changed her life, but the impact the conflict had on the world at large around her. When she says the war “smashed her youth” and “interrupted her personal plans” you get the sense of the level of personal destruction the violence left in its wake. She led a sheltered life in England, never leaving the country until she was twenty-one. She had both a brother and a fiancé serve in the war. Through their letters and poems, how they were affected by the conflict represents how a good majority of the soldiers coped with battle. In order to feel closer to her brother and fiancé, Vera volunteered to darn socks, but as the war dragged on, the desire to “do something more” led her to sign up as a probationer in a hospital. There she had an up close and personal view of war’s terrible price. There is a growing sense of dread when Brittain describes reading the list of casualties and not having a single word from loved ones. The war matures Brittain. At the start of the conflict she naively hoped Roland would suffer a war wound so they could see each other. After some time changing the dressings of the amputees Brittain realizes she couldn’t wish that kind of horror on anyone.
Brittain’s autobiography continues after the war has ended and the struggle to return to civilian life becomes a reality. She has lost everyone she loved, friends and family alike.

As an aside, it is unclear if Vera was agnostic before the war or if the tragedies in France solidified an already growing idea idea.

Quotes to quote, “Someone is getting hell, but it isn’t you – yet,” (p 150), “Truly war had made masochists of us all” (p 154), “Too angry and miserable to be shy any more, we clung together and kissed in forlorn desperation” (p 189), “The world was mad and we were all victims, that was the only way to look at it” (p 376) and “I was not the culprit, for I was still too deeply and romantically in love with a memory to have any appetite for sexual unorthodoxies, but I am not sure that I should have owned up if I had been” (p 328).
Here is the sentence that had the most profound effect on me, “I entirely failed to notice the assassination on the previous morning, of a European potentate whose name was unknown to me, in a Balkan town of which I had never heard” (p 85).

Author fact: Even though Brittain is best known for her autobiographies she was also an accomplished poet.

Book trivia: Brittain includes a great deal of poetry from several different poets. Testament of Youth was a Masterpiece Theater dramatic series present on PBS by WGBH in Boston.

Playlist: “Elizabeth’s Prayer,” “Jewel Song,” “Clair de Lune,” “Te Deum Patreum Colimus,” “L’Envoi,” “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” “If You Were the Only Girl in the World,” “We are Soldiers of the Queen, Me Lads,” “Good-bye Dolly, I Must Leave You,” “When the Heart is Young,” “Whisper and I Shall Hear,” “Distant Shore,” “Robert the Devil,” “Dreaming,” “The Vision of Salome,” “Elgar’s Lament for the Fallen,” Beethoven’s 7th Sonata, Verdi’s Requiem, Bram’s Requiem, “Sweet Early Violets,” “Down in the Forest,” “Auld Lang Syne,” “O Hel-, O Hel-“

Nancy said: Pearl called Testament of Youth “moving.” She also called it “One of the finest accounts ever written of World War I” (More Book Lust p 155).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “World War I Nonfiction” (p 251). Again in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Living Through War” (p 154).


Onions in the Stew

MacDonald, Betty. Onions in the Stew. Philadelphia: JB Lippincott, 1954.

Reason read: to finished the series started in April in honor of Humor Month.

In truth, Onions in the Stew can be read independently of any other Betty MacDonald memoir. All three are very different from one another. Onions in the Stew tells of the period in MacDonald’s life when she and her children, with her second husband, buy a house on Vashon Island in Puget Sound. It starts off as a humorous commentary on island living but morphs into the trials and tribulations of raising two teenager daughters who just have to rebel against everything you want for them. By the end of it, the reader can’t help but sigh. MacDonald blends just the right amount of laugh-out-oud funny with sweet poignancy. This was my favorite of the three memoirs by far.

Author fact: MacDonald might be better known for her Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle stories for children, but Onions in the Stew was delightful.

Book trivia: Onions in the Stew is another memoir about Betty MacDonald’s life. The Egg and I and The Plague and I are two others. These do not necessarily need to be read in order to be fully enjoyed.

Playlist: “Tangerine,” “Rock of Ages,” “You’re Mine, You,” “Embraceable You,” “Sweet Lorraine,” “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home,” “Paper Moon,” Frank Sinatra, Frankie Laine, Billie Holliday, and King Cole.

Nancy said: Pearl mentioned Onions in the Stew as one of those books that will be so funny you will fall off your chair from laughing.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Tickle Your Funny Bone” (p 218).


Third Helpings

Trillin, Calvin. Third Helpings. New Haven: Ticknor & Fields, 1983.

Reason read: to finish the Tummy Trilogy started in March in honor of National Food Month.

Trillin is at it again with a third and final installment of the Tummy Trilogy; another series of essays all about his idea of good eating. Third Helpings starts with Trillin’s belief that Spaghetti Carbonara should be the national dish at Thanksgiving. It’s a quirky idea, but I get his point. Fourteen essays follow.
The more I read Trillin, the more I admire his wife and her ability to travel to strange lands to eat even stranger foods without complaint, but my favorite character was Mrs. Rome. The list of food she sampled between pages 97-99 is very impressive. It is no wonder she gained nine pounds on that trip!

Irony: the last chapter of Third Helpings is about Crescent City, Florida. I guess there used to be a big catfish festival along the St. John River. At the time I was finishing Third Helpings I was in Florida, not far from Crescent City.

Author fact: According to IMDB, Calvin Trillin is also an actor. What the what? He was in Sleepless in Seattle. Mind blown.

Book trivia: Third Helpings is the final book in the Tummy Trilogy, but Trillin has also written a memoir about his father and a few books about his wife, Alice. None of those books are on my Challenge list.

Playlist: “Oh Marie,” “Tell Me That You Love Me,” “The Streets of Laredo,” “Rock Around the Clock,” “Moon Over Miami,” and “Let’s Go To the Hop.”

Nancy said: Pearl called Trillin’s essays “treasures.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Food for Thought” (p 91).


Unsung Hero

Brockmann, Suzanne. Unsung Hero. New York: Ivy Books, 2000.

Reason read: May is Brockmann’s birth month. Read in her honor.

Back in 2008 I read Defiant Hero, starring Navy SEAL Lieutenant John. Then in 2011 I read Out of Control with the dashing Navy SEAL Ken Karmody. This time we have Navy SEAL Tom Paoletti in Unsung Hero.
Most of Brockmann’s romances have these common details: Navy SEALs, kidnappings, an important grandmother, a terrorist or two, great looking people with hard bodies, and let’s not forget roiling sexual turmoil. Unsung Hero is no different. Tom Paoletti and Kelly Ashton’s conundrum is that they have history dating back to high school: Kelly was too young for next door neighbor Tom so he ran away to join the military a month early. Sweet and innocent Kelly was left with unrequited teenager lust never to be forgotten. But now, sixteen years later, Kelly is all grown up and just happens to be visiting her father. Tom is also back in town trying to convalesce after getting caught in a bomb blast. Kelly never lost the burn for Tom, so much so that even though her father is dying of terminal cancer, all she can think about is getting the doomed man back in bed. She needs to return to her fantasy about Tom and his um…hard body as soon as possible. Even though Tom is damaged goods, his one track mind is no better. He too carries the long burning torch of lust. He eyeballs Kelly’s perfect ass as they blithely discuss her father’s terminal cancer. Insert eye roll here. So sex aside, while Tom is home he catches a glimpse of a terrorist long thought dead. His superiors think the bomb has altered his reality and refuse to take him seriously, leaving Tom no choice but to cobble together his own counterterrorist team to take the man down.

Author fact: I think I read this on a Wiki page: Brockmann dropped out of college to join a band. How cool is that?

Book trivia: Unsung Hero is actually the first book in the Troubleshooters, Inc. Novel series. I read them out of order and like an idiot didn’t catch on that a plot with the same characters just might be a series. Duh.

Nancy said: I like what Pearl said about Brockmann’s novels. She said Brockmann gives a “female slant to the James Bond ethos.” The characters are “sharply drawn” and the reading of her work is “interesting.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romance Novels: Our Love is Here To Stay” (p 203).


Abraham Lincoln: the Prairie Years, Vol II

Sandburg, Carl. Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Yeas, Volume Two. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1926.

Reason read: to continue the series started in February in honor of Lincoln’s birth month.

When we delve back into Sandburg’s volume two of Abraham Lincoln: the Prairie Years Lincoln is now in his forties. He is a family man. His political life is becoming more and more entangled with his career as a lawyer. His direct, plain-speaking, and honest approach has people trusting him and he soon has a following of stump-speech fans. In the courtroom, his ability to deliver calm closing arguments that sway even the toughest juries has people wanting him to run for President of the United States. As Sandburg eloquently put it, “His words won him hearts in unknown corners of far-off places” (p 155). His role as a leader of our country is starting to come into shape.
[As an aside, it was interesting that I was reading about town gossip while at a salon getting my hair cut. There is no better place to hear tongues wagging than in a salon (except maybe in a bar).]

Author fact: Carl and his wife were married just shy of 60 years.

Book trivia: Best part of the book was when Lincoln was having a conversation with a goat. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud, thinking of tall, gangling Abraham bending low to converse with an animal.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about either volume of Abraham Lincoln: the Prairie Years.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade: 1920s” (p 176).


The Dog Next Door

Robertson, Keith. The Dog Next Door. New York: Viking Press, 1950.

Reason read: April is National Dog Month. For the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge I needed a book with an animals in the title.

Thirteen year old Hal has wanted a dog all of his life. His neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Perkins, have never wanted a dog in their lives. Ever. Unfortunately, Mrs. Aylesworth, boxer breeder and sister to Mrs. Perkins, unceremoniously sends the Perkins a beautiful dog named Beau as a gift. So begins a dilemma with a seemingly easy fix: the Perkins should give Hal the dog. Right? Only, Hal’s parents think a dog would be too much responsibility for Hal and the Perkins, knowing Beau is a pure bred, think he could be sold for a lot of money (once they get over the guilt of selling a gift). Stalemate. As a consolation prize, Hal’s parents tell him he can build a treehouse in the back yard complete with a telescope. With the help of elderly boat builder and friend, Mr. Seward, Hal not only builds a shipshape treehouse, he develops a keen sense of responsibility. He watches helplessly as Beau, the new canine about town, is blamed for dog fights and attacks on community members. Beau is getting the reputation of being a vicious dog. Hal needs to set the record straight, but how?
The Dog Next Door was beautifully yet sparsely illustrated by Morgan Dennis. I wish there had been more illustrations.

Author fact: Robertson has written other books, but The Dog Next Door is the only one I am reading for the Book Lust Challenge.

Book trivia: This was a hard book to find. Not many libraries had it on their shelves. As an aside, my edition (published in 1950) had seen better days. It had pen marks, rips and holes.

Nancy said: Pearl mentioned The Dog Next Door when reminiscing about the books she used to read as a child. I have to admit, it was cool to hold a book old enough that my dad could have read the same copy. He would have been twelve years old and definitely interested in reading about a boy who longed for a boat and a dog of his own.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Great Dogs in Fiction” (p 104). Both Keith and the title of his book were left out of the index.


The Blessing

Orr, Gregory. The Blessing: a Memoir. San Francisco: Council Oaks Books, 2002.

Reason read: April is National Poetry Month. Gregory Orr is known for his fantastic poetry.

This is Gregory Orr’s painful memoir of not only the terrible moment when he shot his brother to death in a hunting accident, but the uncharacteristic way he and his family, tight lipped and stoic, dealt with the pain. Only one week after the tragedy the Orr children were back in school as if nothing happened. Gregory was in the seventh grade at this point. When Orr’s father uprooted the family and took them to Haiti, Gregory, as an adult, is able to look back at the episode and as delve briefly into Haiti’s turbulent political history and conflicting cultures (a mention of Castro and Papa Doc Duvalier) as a perfect comparison to his own family’s unsettled time. It is unbelievable, but even more tragedy followed the Orr family after arriving in Haiti. Once in full adulthood, Orr tries to make sense of his past and his responses to all of its shocking heartache. For example – when his mother died, none of her children were invited to the funeral. Father, a man Gregory once worshiped and wanted all to himself, is later described as having “not a nurturing bone in his body.” What father gives bottles of amphetamines as going away presents to his son while he carrying on a relationship with a girl barely older than Gregory? All of this sounds like a book unbearable to read. It is not. In the end, Gregory is able to find his way through the maze of mixed emotions and come out with the determination to become an accomplished poet.

Lines to ponder, “We were grateful to let something so mysterious and disturbing pass out of memory” (p 85), “Violent trauma shreds the web of meaning” (p 134), and “Poems are discrete artifacts of language that prove someone’s imagination and linguistic gifts have triumphed over disorder in a definitive, shaped way” (p 144-145).

Playlist: “Ti Oiseau,” “Greensleeves,”Somnambule Ballad,” “Keep Your Eye on the Prize,” “Aint Gonna Study War No More,” “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” “Birmingham Jail,” “We Belong to a Mutual Admiration Society (My Baby and Me),” “We shall Overcome.” Fats Domino, Chubby Checker, Bob Dylan.

To look up: To Die in Madrid: a documentary on the Spanish Civil War and the sculptor, David Smith.

Author fact: Orr also wrote The Caged Owl which is also on my Challenge list. It will be interesting to read the poetry now that I’ve read the memoir. Will I see hints of Orr’s personal life in his lines of poems?

Book trivia: There are no photographs in Orr’s memoir.

Nancy said: Pearl included The Blessing in her list of “beautiful and moving memoirs by poets.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Prose By Poets” (p 194).


Cheaper by the Dozen

Gilbreth, Jr., Frank B. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. Cheaper by the Dozen. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1948.

Reason: April 1st is known as April Fools Day. Cheaper By the Dozen is a foolish story.

The parents of Frank and Ernestine make an interesting couple. She is a psychologist and he is a motion study engineer. Together, they work to make processes more efficient for various business and by default, their twelve children are efficiency aficionados. Why twelve children? As Mr. Gilbreth explains, they were “cheaper by the dozen.” It’s a running joke in the family. Be forewarned, the family has a lot of running jokes.
An example of making a process more efficient: Mr. Gilbreth evaluated surgeons during operations to make their procedures go smoother.
While the bulk of Gilbreth’s story is humorous, it must be said that at the time of writing no one thought it politically or socially incorrect to call a Native American a “red indian.”
I don’t want to give too much away, but the birth control scene was hysterical. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud more than once. And I don’t think it is a spoiler alert to say that I loved the ending. Mother Gilbreth steps fearlessly into her husband’s shoes and carries on the family business. Brilliant.

Favorite dad line, “Some simpleton with pimples in his voice wants to talk to Ernestine” (p 220).

Author fact: Frank and Ernestine are siblings and wrote the book together.

Book Audio trivia: my copy of the audio book was narrated by Dana Ivey and had music before each chapter.
Book trivia: Cheaper by the Dozen was made into a movie more than once. Myrna Loy starred in the first version. My music connection: Josh Ritter has a song called Myrna Loy and the print version was illustrated by Donald McKay.

Playlist: “stumbling,” “Limehouse Blues,” “Last night on the Back Porch,” “Charlie, My Boy,” I’m forever Blowing Bubbles,” “You’ve got to See Mama Every Night or You Can’t See Mama at All,” “Me and the Boy Friend,” “Clap Hands, Here Comes charlie,” “Jadda Jadda Jing Jing Jing.”

Nancy said: Pearl said Cheaper by the Dozen remains one of the funniest books ever.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Humor” (p 166).