Fifteen

Cleary, Beverly. Fifteen. HarperCollins, 1956.

Reason read: a Christmas gift to myself (something I could read in a day without thinking).

If you know Cleary’s books you know they can be inhaled in one sitting. Written for children and young adults, Fifteen tackles, well, being fifteen. Jane Purdy is exactly that age and anxious to break free of stereotypical teenager dilemmas like mean girls and being boy crazy. She tires of babysitting brats, longs for a boyfriend she can call her own, and is sick of being the homely girl Marcy always teases. As it is, Jane is an easy target with her sensible shoes, no nonsense hairstyle and round collars. I found it distressing that Jane needed a boy to feel like she belonged at Woodmont High, but that’s fifteen for you. This is definitely one book best read as a young child or early teen.

Author fact: Cleary also write the Ramona series. I am only reading Fifteen for the Challenge.

Book trivia: I couldn’t remember reading this book until I saw a different cover of it. Interesting fact: the cover of that book had a boy putting an identification bracelet on a girl’s wrist as a sign they were going steady. I was disappointed in the cover because that’s not how it happened in the book. Spoiler alert.

Nancy said: Pearl included Fifteen as a book that is better remembered than reread. She actually said it was one book she couldn’t reread without feeling “disappointed, betrayed, and embarrassed” (Book Lust p 165).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “My Own Private Dui” (p 165).

Hiroshima

Hersey, John. Hiroshima. Alfred A. Knopf, 1988.

Reason read: There is a day in November that is celebrating in Japan called “Cultural Day.” Read Hiroshima to celebrate the day. I also needed a book with a one-word title for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge of 2022.

Isn’t it strange that in times of intense tragedy (like your country being at war), that one could be lulled into a false sense of security just because of the Boy Who Cried Wolf syndrome? When the village of Hiroshima was bombed many people didn’t heed the warnings. Even those responsible for alerting others to oncoming attacks didn’t see it coming or want to believe it. As a common citizen, what are you supposed to do when the system you are taught to trust gives the “all clear” signal? How are you supposed to react to false alarm no. 42,364?
Hiroshima follows the lives of six Hiroshima bombing survivors from the moments before the blast on August 6th, 1945 at 8:15 a.m. to the aftermath of the following year: Miss Toshiko Sasaki, Dr. Masakazu Fujii, Mrs. Hatsyo Nakamura, Dr. Terufumi Sasaki (no relation to Miss Toshiko), Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, and Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto.
Fair warning: you will be privy to excruciating details about their injuries and subsequent health issues. People with no outward visible wounds had a delayed response to radiation sickness with symptoms difficult to fathom. Your heart will break to read of their confusion when trying to understand what happened to them. Theories and rumors about the “strange weapon” abounded. For example, for a while people assumed powdered magnesium was dumped on power lines, creating explosions and subsequent fires. Survivors believed they were doused with gasoline from airplanes high above them. As an American, born nearly twenty-five years after the attack, I hung my head in shame to read of the atrocities.
The edition of Hiroshima I read included a section called “Aftermath” and carefully detailed the rest of lives of the six survivors; how they lived out their remaining years. A few thrived after the attack, but most didn’t.

I like to learn things new when reading outside my comfort zone. The Japanese culture of families who move into their loved one’s hospital to care for them during an illness was fascinating. Family is everything. A decent burial for a loved one is far more crucial than adequate care for the living.

Quotes to quote, “…they could not comprehend or tolerate a wider circle of misery” (p 40).

Author fact: when I was reading up on John Hersey, I discovered his style of storytelling journalism was in its infancy and John was an early adopter of the method.

Book trivia: Do not let the size of the book fool you. While this is a short read (less that 200 pages), it packs a wallop. My 1988 edition included an additional chapter written forty years after the original.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about Hiroshima.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade: 1940” (p 175).

Dune

Herbert, Frank. Dune. Ace Trade, 2005.

Reason read: Herbert began his career as a novelist in November 1955. I also needed a book with a one-word title for the Portland Public Library’s Reading Challenge.

At the center of Dune is a drug known to be a truth seeker called Melange. It acts as an extension of human youth and has the ability to produce multidimensional awareness, the foresight ncessary for space navigation, increased mental abilities, and vitality in the form of being able to diagnose illnesses and treat them accordingly. Quite the wonder drug and in obvious high demand. It is the proverbial fountain of youth and very addictive, as one might suspect. It is mined on the planet of Arrakis, otherwise known as “Dune” the desert planet. As mentioned earlier, Melange gives people the ability to change metabolism with each wound or injury, making survival that much easier when faced with a poisoned blade which makes an appearance frequently.
When it comes to the subject of breeding, I was reminded of The Handmaid’s Tale. Jessica, Paul’s mother, was “ordered” to give birth to a girl but ultimately disobeyed to give her husband a son. Mothers can chose the gender of her child. Imagine that. Another simularity to Handmaid is the idea of a strict caste system society.
Dune is the kind of book that drives me crazy. Suspensor lamps and glowglobes abound. WTF are they? Despite the “otherworldly” details, there is a fundamental truth within Dune. Water is precious in the desert. After the drought we just endured last summer, I can relate. In Dune people can be killed for the fluid in their bodies.

Confessional: how hated would I be if I said I never had the desire to read Dune? Everyone knows how I feel about science fiction in general, but there was something detracting about the vibe I got from the movie and (I say this with one eye open, cringing), I’ve never been a fan of self-centered Sting. There. I’ve said it. Sand worms aside, I wasn’t looking forward to Dune. I wasn’t even sure I would get through the requisite 50 pages. I opted for the audio version which was fantastic. I now want to see the movie. Imagine that!

Lines I connected with, “Dreams were predictions” (p 4). I believe that as well. Here is another phrase I liked, “sift people to find the humans.” I feel like I do that on a daily basis.

Author fact: Herbert based everything in Dune on magic mushrooms.

Book trivia: my audio version included a whole cast of characters. Instead of just one person reading the story, it was acted out by a bunch of people. In addition to that, sound effects were fantastic.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything in particular about Dune.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 215).

Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Complete Sherlock Holmes: Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.

Reason read: It’s Sherlock.

Here are the short stories that make up The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes:

  • “Silver Blaze” – who killed a jockey and where is the famous horse, Silver Blaze?
  • “Yellow Face” – this was my favorite mystery of the book.
  • “Stock-broker’s Clerk” – What is a true connection and how can it be bought?
  • “The Gloria Scott” – a glimpse into Holmes’s past. We learn of a friendship that comes from a dog bite.
  • “Musgrave Ritual” – my favorite line came from this story, “Pistol practice should be an open air pasttime.” Amen to that.
  • “Reigate Puzzle” – holmes is supposed to be resting after an illness but cannot help getting involved with a murder mystery.
  • “Crooked Man”- it was at this point that I decided it would be exhausting to have a conversation with Shelock Holmes; to have all of his observations and elementary deductions punctuating his every sentence.
  • “Resident Patient” – Watson picks up on Sherlock’s method of deducation.
  • “Greek Interpreter” – it is revealed Sherlock Holmes has a brother, Mycroft. The two brothers share the same powers of deduction so a conversation with them would be twice as annoying.
  • “Naval Treaty” – we meet a college friend of Watson’s.
  • “Final Problem” – the story that makes everyone think Homes has died.

As an aside, what constitutes a fabulous forehead?

Author fact: Doyle studied medicine. I think that education helped his writing.

Book trivia: Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes is odd in the sense that it was published in 1893 with a ’94 date.

Nancy said: Memoirs of Sherlock Homes was so under the radar or Pearl since she only indexed The Complete Sherlock Holmes.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “I Love a Mystery” (p 123). Confessional: when I realized I would be reading more than one title within a single book, I started listing out the individual titles. For example, Remembrance of Things Passed has seven volumes (seven titles). I am listing each title separately because there is no way I can read Remembrance in its entirety in one month. So. Same with the Complete Sherlock Holmes. Pearl doesn’t mention each compilation of short stories or novel within but since that’s how I’m reading them, I decided to list them that way. My true confessional is that I have started to list out the short stories and this is where I have gotten myself confused. I haven’t been listing out the short stories in other collections, so why now?

Sense of Sight

Berger, John. Sense of Sight. Pantheon Books, 1986.

Reason read: October is Art Appreciation Month

To read Sense of Sight is to jump into a world of essays on various topics, each one taking you on a journey for the senses. You will discover Albrecht Durer is an interesting looking guy. Berger tells us he is the first painter to be obsessed with his own image. A ride on the Bosphorus can be somewhat romantic if you are patient and watchful. Manhattan, seen as a chaotic paradox and a land of severe contradictions, will astound you. [As an aside, while reading about Manhattan I was simultaneously reminded of Natalie Merchant’s “Carnival” and Candace Bushnell’s Sex and the City with their displays of weak and strong, poverty and wealth, intimacy and strangeness, darkness and light. One of my favorite quotes comes from Berger’s essays on Manhattan, “Manhattan is haunted by the dead” (p 65). And to think the essay in question was written in the mid-1970s. What would Berger think of the dead after 9/11 attacks?]
But. I digress. Back to Sense of Sight. I wish Berger were standing before me. I would ask if it is true the body of the Duchess of Alba was exhumed and her skeleton compared to the Goya paintings (according to Google, it is very much true). Talk about the scrutiny of art! And speaking of Alba, Durer’s conceit was on display in Sense of Sight whereas Maja dressed and indressed evokes a curiosity within us. Because Berger does not provide her image like he did for Durer, are we prompted or subliminally urged to look her up? If so, does that mean we have been artfully played into Berger’s cunning trap of intrigue? He talks of Maja undressed and dressed in such great detail we might not need the investigation if we are to trust our imaginations. But we will want to all the same. In reading Sense of Sight the reader is treated to a mini biography of Claude Monet (did he really love the sea? why do I only think of ponds and lilies?), learn of a hotel that once serves as the interogation and death and torture headquarters during World War II, and come to the realization that poetry is anguish.
Sense of Sight made me think. I have always wondered when a painting is truly finished. What prompts an artist to put down the paint brush for the final time? And this – when a person is no longer with us, are they no longer real? If they become just a memory does what was once tangible become a figment of our imagination?

As an aside, I made this comment in my notes “why can’t it be a social commentary on this is how life is at this very moment? Why can’t we say this is how we do things now?” I have no idea what I was talking about except to say it is under the quote, “heroizing the farm laborer.”
Another aside, I am fascinated by the idea that nomadic people took their art with them. Of course.

Lines I liked, “The nomadic land is not just an image, it has history” (p 55), “The finction of painting is to fill an absence with the simulacrum of a presence” (p 212),

Author fact: Berger also wrote Ways of Seeing and About Looking in addition to Sense of Sight. I just have About Looking as my last Berger book to read.

Book trivia: Sense of Sight includes photographs. That’s how I know Albrecht Durer is an interesting looking guy.

Nancy said: Pearl said Sense of Sight was an extension of Ways of Seeing.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the simple chapter called “Art Appreciation” (p 25).

The Man Who Ate Everything

Steingarten, Jeffrey. The Man Who Ate Everything: and Other Gastronomic Feats, Disputes, and Pleasurable Pursuits. Alfred A. Knopf, 1998.

Reason read: November is the month the U.S. celebrates Thanksgiving…whatever that is to you. All I know is that it is a day people eat a lot of food and it seemed appropriate to read a book with the title The Man Who Ate Everything. I also needed a book for the category of a book about food that wasn’t a cookbook for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.

Even though The Man Who Ate Everything was published over twenty years ago, I have to think some of the truths Steingarten uncovered about food and the consumer industry are still true. Prices and other forms of economic data might be outdated but doesn’t Heinz still rule the ketchup competition? Is there still a Wall Street branch of McDonald’s at 160 Broadway, two blocks north of Trinity church? Steingarten will amuse you on a variety of topics from the safest time to eat an oyster, the chemical makeup of the best tasting water and the discussion of Campbell’s soup recipes to instructions on how to produce perfectly mashed potatoes and french fries (is it the potatoe, the oil, the salt, or the technique?). Even Jane Austen gets a mention into his book. You will pay more attention to the waitstaff in a fancy restaurant after you read The Man Who Ate Everything.
One surprise while reading Steingarten. His quest to be thin. I have a hard time picturing any man looking attractive and healthy at a mere 116lbs. Okay, except maybe Prince.
On a side note, after fifty plus years on this planet, I have finally learned the secret to removing the metalic taste of canned tomatoes, or at least I think I have. I didn’t try the trick.

As an aside, when I was finished reading The Man Who Ate Everything I had so many more questions than answers. What did Steingarten do with the thirty plus brands of ketchup he and his wife sampled? Why have I never heard of 80% of these brands? Are the phone numbers he listed now out of date? (Probably.) What would happen if I tried to call a few of them? Is there any truth to that claim that chlorine in water inhibits the growth of yeast? It gives me enough pause for me to want to try spring water in my dough next week.

Line I liked, “My mind feels at half mast” (p 113). Brilliant.

Author fact: Steingarten started out as a lawyer. At the time of publication he wrote for Vogue. Confessional: when I first saw Jeffrey’s name, I thought he was the cute man married to Ina Garten. Close, but nope.

Book trivia: My copy of The Man Who Ate Everything has a photograph of a piece of bread with a bite taken out of it. The slice is a very close up shot and makes me hungry.

Playlist: “There Will Never Be Another You”, “Love Potion #9”, and Madonna.

Nancy said: Pearl called Staingarten’s column “entertaining.”

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

Neuromancer

Gibson, William, Neuromancer. Read by Robertson Dean. Penguin Audio, 2011.

Reason read: October was once dubbed Computer Learning Month. I needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge under the category of speculative fiction. This also served as a book for the category of book with a one-word title.

I was pleasantly surprised by Neuromancer. I think it is fair to say, and I’ll say it again for the cheap seats, people know I dislike science fiction. This one was different. Very different. Gibson writes with such color and texture. There is brilliance in every fast-paced sentence and word. Combined with a razor-sharp eye for descriptive detail, I was hooked. Take Gibson’s phrase “insect-calm” as an example. Think about it. Insects do not have readable facial expressions. Everything an insect does is without so-called emotion. [As an aside, right after I wrote that sentence someone dropped a dead praying mantis on my desk.] Example number two: consider Gibson’s ability to take the absolute absurd and make it so commonplace it becomes believable. Learn his lexicon and a whole new world will reveal itself to you. Holographs abound. People run around with vaginas on their wrists. Aftershave does smell metallic. Really.
Our hero, Henry Dorsett Case, is a typical down-and-out character driven by guilt and addiction. He used to be the best data thief out there until ex-employers sabotaged and nearly destroyed his nervous system. Nowadays he’s broken beyond belief and mourning the fact the bad guys killed his girlfriend for revenge. He connection to life is only through his work. Sounds like a Hollywood movie. One that has tried but failed to get off the ground. Case has become literally a thing for hire. Paired with Molly Millions (aka Rose Kolodny, Cat Mother, and Steppin’ Razor), Case is blackmailed into working for an ex-military mercenary in need of a ROM module. I’m going to stop there.

Author fact: gibson has written a ton of other stuff but I am only reading Neuromancer and Pattern Recognition for the Challenge. I find it amazing that Neuromancer was Gibson’s debut novel.

Book trivia: Neuromancer has a huge impact on society. It became a movie (of course) as well as a video game and inspited hundred of science fiction “cyberpunk” writers. It is rumored the word “cyberspace” was coined by Gibson.

Nancy said: Pearl said to read Neuromancer as the book that started cyberpunk.

BookLust Twist: for all of the high praise, I am surprised Neuromancer is in only one Lust book, Book Lust in the sole chapter called “Cyberspace.com” (p 69). After some thought, I have decided Pearl was right to only include Neuromancer once. If you read the wiki page about the novel, you will see many, many people were interested in bringing Gibson’s book to the stage in the form of an opera or to the big screen as a movie. None of these endeavors panned out for one reason or another.

Farmer Giles of Ham

Tolkien, J.R.R. Farmer Giles of Ham: The Rise and Wonderful Adventures of Farmer Giles, Lord Tame Count of Worminghall and Knight of the Little Kingdom. Embelished by Pauline Baynes. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1976.

Reason read: October is Fantasy Month. I also needed a book for the category of “Book I wish I had read as a child” for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.

Farmer Giles (aka Aegidius Ahenobarbus Julius Agricola De Hammo) lives in a kingdom where giants and dragons occasionally terrorize the community. Normally one to mind his own business and not get involved, Farmer Giles is seen as a hero after he chases off a giant terrorizing the village and squashing livestock. After such accidental bravado, it is only natural that the village appoint Farmer Giles as the one to slay a greedy dragon (worm) when it comes calling on Ham. With a talking dog and an overworked mare, Giles accepts the challenge. The result is as humorous as it is childish. This is a book for children of all ages, after all.

Quote I liked, “It ran through the realm like fire and lost nothing in the telling” (p 40). That’s the sign of a good rumor. Note to self: beyond being a hero, it is good to be a darling.

Author fact: Everyone knows Tolkien for his Lord of the Rings series. I have to admit, I had never heard of Farmer Giles of Ham until Book Lust.

Book trivia: Farmer Giles of Ham is hailed as a book for children but I have to agree with one reviewer that it is a book for all ages. At only 64 pages it is a quick read.

Nancy said: Pearl said Tolkien’s Farmer Giles of Ham has one of her favorite quotes about the possibilities of fantasy.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 213). As an aside, I am really putting a dent in this chapter this year.

Haunting of Hill House

Jackson, Shirley. The Haunting of Hill House. Pengin Horror, 2013.

Reason read: October is the time for spooky stories. I also needed a story where the house is central to the plot for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge. This fit the bill.

Any story endorsed by Stephen King is going to be a thriller. At least, one would think. Such is the case with The Haunting of Hill House. I was thrilled with it. Jackson is masterful at making an old mansion come alive in subtle, yet ominous ways. For starters, the house is built all wrong. Jackson obviously understood that symmetry is the key to desired beauty, so to make something ugly it has to be confusing with uneven angles that defy logic. Sightlines would not make sense. Doors have to lead nowhere. Staircases turn inhabitants around to the point of dizzying confusion. Despite all this, a certain Dr. Montegue has heard all the rumors about Hill House and cannot wait to investigate the so-called haunted house. He has been waiting for a house like this all his life. His “guests” Eleanor Vance and Theodora (first name only Theodora) join him and the heir to Hill House, Luke Sanderson, in a quest to search out the ghosts and paranormal activity.
Rules of the house: try not to close any doors, keep lights on at all times, don’t try to leave the house at night, never get separated and/or try to do everything together. It goes wothout saying, they all fail at one or all of these commands at one time or another. Hill House starts to show its personality when it first drops the tempature. The colder the room, the closer the threat. Then it tries to get the group to break up by masterfully turning them against one another. Eleanor is the obvious weakest link. She feel empty before even coming to Hill House. The death of her mother weighs on her and guilt threatens to strangle her at every quiet moment. Guess who falls prey to the house?

As an aside, my father-in-law was not a fan of neither the book nor the movie. I’m not sure why. Since it’s October, I watched both versions of the remake. I can’t tell you which one I liked better. The 1963 version was more true to the novel, but the 1999 version was scarier (people actually die in the latter version).

Author fact: Jackson died in North Bennington, Vermont. Just up the road from me.

Book trivia: The Haunting of Hill House was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1959. It was also made into a kooky little movie in 1963.

Nancy said: Pearl had lots to say about The Haunting of Hill House. She said it cemented Jackson’s reputation (despite two bad movies). She called it a classic that has been “scaring people” since it was first written. She also said it was a “superb” example of the range horror fiction.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust twice, once in the chapter called “Ghost Stories” (p 100) and again, in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 217). A little redundant.

The Castle

Kafka, Franz. The Castle. Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir. Everyman’s Library, 1992.

Reason read: While this is not “The Verdict”, I am reading The Castle in honor of the month “Verdict” was written.

Do you remember the story of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet following the trail of a woozle? They think the woozles are multiplying because their own footprints are multiplying as they circle the tree? The absurdity of following your own footprints without conclusion – that is exactly what reading The Castle is like. K. is a land surveyor who thinks he has been hired to do a job for the Castle only for some inane reason he cannot gain entry. Barriers abound everywhere. How can he measure and estimate if he cannot visit this very important castle? K. is literally thwarted at every turn. No matter how hard he tries, no matter how many schemes he concocts, he never does any surveying for anyone. On a deeper level, it seems Kafka is trying to tell us K. abandons his home for a quest for meaning.
Beside the strangeness of K.’s insistence to do a job he obviously wasn’t hired for, there are other bizarre moments: K. randomly throwing snowballs at people or calling both assistants by the same name because he cannot tell them apart (and why does he need assistants when he can’t do the job in the first place?). All of a sudden he is engaged to Herr Klamm’s lover, Frieda. They are given classrooms as a place to live as they are hired to take care of the school and vegetable garden, only they have to vacate the room if a class is in session. Of course a class is going to be in session and heaven forbid K. is left alone with the cat! So many absurdities that I’m back to the analogy of Pooh and Piglet.
As an aside, listen to a song by Josh Ritter called “The Torch Committee”. In the lyrics, Josh lists rules and regulations that are reminiscent of the hoops K. must go through in order to gain entry to the castle. If K. is not dealing with the Control Official or Department A, he is negotiating with Town Council or the Superintendent or the Mayor.

Author fact: I also read The Trial by Kafka as part of the Book Lust challenge.

Book trivia: of course The Castle was made into a movie. It has also been a radio program and a graphic novel. For another thing, translation matters! For the first time I have paid attention to the words translators pick: annoyed versus exasperated, defend versus vindicate, quickly versus hastily. What a difference the choise of a word makes!

Nancy said: Pearl said Kafka had a “frightening view” of Prague.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Czech It Out” (p 70).

Woman Warrior

Kingston, Maxine Hong. Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. Everyman’s Library, 1976.

Reason read: California became a state in September. Woman Warrior was also published in September.

Kingston is a master at weaving first, second, and third voices into a memoir filled with anicient Chinese folklore and cautionary tales about womanhood. I felt a lot of sadness in Woman Warrior. The tragedy starts early in as Kingston describes her mother, a former Chinese doctor, telling a horrifying tale about an aunt giving birth to a sexless child in a pigsty and then committing suicide with that baby; drowning together in a well. There was such shame in this pregnancy, “To save her inseminator’s name she gave a silent birth” (p 14). So much contradiction in culture! There is a crime to being born female and yet there is the story of the fierce woman warrior, the legend of the female avenger. My favorite parts were when Kingston addresses the difference between American-feminine and Chinese-feminine.

Quotes to quote, “No one supports me at the expense of his own adventure” (p 50),

Author fact: I could have read this book in honor of Kingston being born in October.

Book trivia: Woman Warrior won the National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything about Woman Warrior except to say that it was published before The Joy Luck Club but didn’t captivate the world like Tan did.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Asian American Experience (p 26).

Bone

Ng, Fae Myenne. Bone. Harper Perennial, 1993.

Reason read: September is the month for the Autumn Festival for China.

Here’s what you need to understand first and foremost. This is a story built around grief. Ona, the middle sister, jumped off the M floor of the Nam. M happens to be the thirteenth floor. Unlucky, unforgivable thirteen. Everything that happens to her surviving family centers on this one fact. Ona jumped. Everything is marked by the time Before Ona Jumped and the time After Ona Jumped. Confessional: I am like that, too. When I hear a specific date, I quickly do the math to determine if it is A.D.D. (after dad’s death) or before – B.D.D. Leila is the eldest of three daughters and the one most constrained by old China values versus modern American China. She is aware of the boldness of her actions (eloping when her ancestors had childbride arranged marriages), but she isn’t the boldest of the family. All three sisters are responsible for Mah’s shame. Her sister Ona committed suicide (shame) and her sister, Nina, had an abortion (shame). Even Mah carries shame (an affair while her second husband was away at sea as a merchant marine). Told from the perspective of Lei, she has to make a decision between dating and duty; between marriage with Mason and Mah. Having both seems impossible.

Lines I really liked: sorry. Can’t quote them.

Author fact: Ng has been compared to F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Book trivia: As an aside, my internet copy of Bone was marked up. Every highlighted area made me think I needed to pay close attention to that specific passage.

Nancy said: nothing specific.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in two different chapters. Once in “Asian American Experience” (p 26). The second time in “California, Here We Come” (p 50).

Stringer

Just, Ward. Stringer. Graywolf Press, 1984.

Reason read: Just celebrates a birthday in September. Read in his honor.

Stringer is a Civilian Intelligence Agent sent on a mission to Vietnam to destroy an enemy supply convoy. He has a sly sense of humor. When paired with a Captain named Price, Stringer must practice patience. Price is younger, more impulsive, yet in charge. There is no casual conversation between the two men. Neither has confidence in the other. They are on the same team but distrust keeps them miles apart. To keep himself from thinking too much about Price, Stringer recalls his failures: his marriage, their visit to a classmate in a mental institution, Stringer’s short time as a newspaper man. These recollections keep him on task in the present. Ever present is Just’s commentary on the damage of war.
As an aside, the double murder came as a shock and I don’t know why. I should have seen it coming. As an aside, is the trick to aiming and firing a gun to breathe out and pull the trigger when the lungs are at their emptiest and the heart has slowed? I seem to have read this before. Maybe Lee Child had Reacher fire a gun this way?

Quote to quote, “That was the wonderful thing about hindsight, it was morbid, no optimism in hingsight” (p 6), “Eyes and Brains were not equal to the circumstances, they were too selective” (p 118)

Author fact: Ward Just’s middle name is Swift. What an interesting name.

Book trivia: Despite being a slim volume, Just packs in a great deal of action, emotion, and character.

Nancy said: besides saying Ward Just is too good to miss, she mentions Stringer as another book by him.

Playlist: Brunis, Zutty, George Mitchell, Alcide Pavageau, Fitzhugh, Kid Ory, Sassoon, and the Oliver Band.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Ward Just: Too Good To Miss” (p 135).

Prince of Tides

Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides. Bantam Books, 1986.

Reason read: the memory of how Conroy described summers in the south has always stayed with me. Read in honor of the end of summer.

“If Henry Wingo had not been a violent man, I think he would have made a splendid father” (p 5). That sums up The Prince of Tides in a nutshell. Well, sort of. No. Not really. I want to say it is about loving someone so fiercely you love well beyond any pain they could bring you. The writing of Pat Conroy is so beautiful it is hard to believe the subject matter of Prince of Tides could be so dark. The damaged Wingo family will stay with you long after you have closed the massive 600-plus page book. Most affected is Savannah Wingo, the sister-twin of Tom, who speaks to the hidden ones, hallucinates angels hanging from lamposts and self-mutilates herself to stave off the voice of her father urging her to kill herself. In reality, the bad times roll in as constant as the South Carolina tide for all of the Wingos. The entire family experiences enough unimaginable terrors to last a lifetime. To name a few: a father badly wounded surviving the horrors of World War II with a little help from a priest; Grandpa’s black widow spiders used as a defense from a stalker intent on raping Lila, the Wingo mother; four stillborn children one right after the other, each kept in the freezer like porkchops until it was time to bury them in the backyard; a tiger trained to rip someone’s face off…Probably the worst offense is not Henry Wingo, a father who beats his wife and children. The inexplicable nightmare is Lila Wingo, a woman so hellbent on keeping a prestine and proud reputation she denies every horror. Is this southern living or a perpetual seventh circle of hell?
Savannah is only partially able to escape her violent past by moving to New York City. After her latest suicide attempt is very close to successful, Savannah’s therapist calls Tom, her twin brother, for insight into the Wingo family. In order to help Savannah Dr. Lowenstein needs to dig deeper into the entire family’s tumultuous history. What emerges is Tom’s own tragic story of coming of age as a souther male in an abusive household. In the beginning of Prince of Tides, the character of Tom Wingo was only slightly annoying with his “American Male” posturing. But by page 300 you realize after all that he and his family have gone through he is allowed to tell jokes when it hurts. He has survived by humor his entire life.
Conroy’s Prince of Tides is a strange love letter to the Southern way of life. It is a story of tenacity and tenderness.

As an aside, Savannah’s mysteries were so intriguing I kept a list:

  • Dogs howling
  • Spiders – the Wingo kids unleashed black widows on a man intent on hurting their mother.
  • White house
  • Caged tigers – Casaer the tiger.
  • Three men – three rapists
  • Woods – the forbidden property surrounding Callandwolde
  • Callanwold – the rich people’s mansion in Atlanta, Georgia. Soon became code for a stalker who attacked Lila and her family.
  • Rosedale Road
  • Taps for TPot
  • Brother’s mouth
  • Caesar – the tiger
  • Red pines
  • Gardenias – the flowers Lila wore in her hair
  • Giant – the 7′ man who tried to rape Lila
  • Pixie
  • Coca Cola – the owners of Coca Cola lived in Callanwolde
  • Seals – another of father’s gimicks
  • “a root for the dead men by the crow”
  • Talking graves
  • Snow angels

Haunting quotes to quote, “But there is no magic to nightmares” (p 7) and “We laugh when the pain gets too much” (p 188), and “Rape is a crime against sleep and memory; its afterimage imprints itself like an irreversable negative from the camera obscura of dreams” (483). There were many, many, many other lines I liked. Too many to mention here. Just go read the book for yourself.

Author fact: Pat Conroy also wrote Beach Music. It is not on my Challenge list, but I read it.

Book trivia: I think everyone knows the 1991 movie starring Nick Nolte and Barbra Steisand. In fact, this is one where a scene I vividly remember is NOT from the book.

Playlist: Bach, Vivaldi’s Chaconne, John Philip Sousa March, “Dixie:, “The Star Spangled Banner”, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”, “Pomp and Circumstance”, the Shirrelles, Jerry Lee Lewis, and “Blessed Be the tie that Binds”.

Nancy said: Pearl called Prince of Tides the definition of dysfunctional, a chronicle of dysfuntional families, a good “if not necessarily instructive on what mothers ought not to do” (Book Lust p 160), and “an interesting portrait of therapists of all stripes…” (p 221).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in a ton of places. First, in the chapter called (obviously), “Families in Trouble” (p 82), “Mothers and Sons” (p 160), “100 Good Reads Decade By Decade: 1980” (p 179), “Southern Fiction” (p 222), and “Shrinks and Shrinkees” (p 221).

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

Flagg, Fannie. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. McGraw Hill, 1987.

Reason read: August is Friendship month.

After reading Fried Green Tomatoes you will swear you just made a whole bunch of new and memorable friends. The characters will stay with you long after the last page. At the heart of Fried Green Tomatoes is the story of a friendship between two women. Mrs. Threadgoode, living out her old age in a nursing home, befriends Evelyn who is only there to visit her ailing mother. Held captive by the incessant chatter of Mrs. Threadgoode, middle aged and weary Evelyn is introduced to 1930s Whistle Stop, Alabama and its ecclectic community. The more Mrs. Threadgoode talks, the more Evelyn wants to know what happened next. She begins to visit more and more, bringing gifts each time. Between the present day nursing home and the flashbacks is Dot Weems and her weekly “Whistle Stop Bulletin” full of town gossip and humor. Despite its feel good narrative, startling examples of bigotry and violence are a reality. The very real thorns among the roses. But, back to the heart of Fried Green Tomatoes – the characters: Tomboy Idgie Threadgoode was by far my favorite. She is passionate, wild, and carries a great sense of humor and love in her heart.

Author fact: I had to look this up to confirm Fannie Flagg was an actress, screenwriter, director, comedienne, as well as author.

Book trivia: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe was made into a well-known movie starring Kathy Bates as Evelyn and Jessica Tandy as Ninny Threadgoode.

Playlist: Art Tatum’s “Red Hot Pepper Stomp”, Bessie Smith’s “I Aint Got Nobody”, “Big Rock Candy Mountain”, “Buffalo Gal, Won’t You Come Out Tonight?”, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Ethel Waters, Hank Williams, “I’m going Home on the Morning Train”, “I’m in Love with the Man in the Moon”, the Inkspots, “In the Baggage Car Ahead”, “Jingle Bells”, “Life is Just a Bowlful of Cherries”, “Listen to the Mockingbird”, “Nola”, “On the Good Ship Lollipop”, “Red Sails in the Sunset”, “Sheik of Araby”, “Smoke Rings”, “Stars Fell on Alabama”, “Sweet By and By”, “Tuxedo Junction”, “Wedding March”, “When I Get to Heaven, I’m Gonna Sit Down and Rest Awhile”, and “White Birds in Moonlight”.

Nancy said: Pearl mentioned Fried Green Tomatoes as another book exploring women’s friendships.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Women’s Friendships” (p 247). Also in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Southern Friend Fiction: Alabama” (p 205).