Golden Compass

Pullman, Philip. His Dark Materials Book One: The Golden Compass New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.

Reason read: November is National Writers Month and this month we are celebrating a writer of fantasy.

The Golden Compass seemingly takes place in Oxford, England, but there is an alternate universe at play. Young wild child Lyra Belacourt isn’t afraid of much, especially an alternate universe. But in the beginning of The Golden Compass all Lyra cares about is getting into the Retiring Room of Jordan College, a room where, if women are not allowed, then children definitely are not. Tell Lyra she can’t do something and of course, that’s all she wants to do. She lives in a world where shape-shifting spirit animals called daemon familiars are the norm. Every person has a daemon and when they die their daemon fades away like a wisp of smoke. Lyra’s daemon familiar is Pantalaimon, a fiercely protective companion who can be a moth, bird, mouse,  ermine…whatever the situation requires. Pantalaimon won’t fix on a permanent shape until Lyra is older, closer to adulthood. But, I digress. Back to Lyra and the Retiring Room. She and Pantalaimon find a way to sneak into the room and eavesdrop on a secret meeting between her uncle and college officials. Uncle Asriel tells a tale of danger and mystique involving Dust in the North. Soon Lyra finds herself more than eavesdropping. Because of unknown talents she is pulled into a terrible world of evil scientists, kidnapped children, witch clans, and armored fighting bears. In The Golden Compass you will meet Gobblers, Tartars, Windsuckers, Breathless Ones, gyptians, Nalkainers, and many others, but it is Lyra and her daemon who will captivate you.

Author fact: Pullmann graduated from Oxford University with a degree in English. This is the third book in less than thirty days that mentions Oxford University.

Book trivia: Pullman took “His Dark Materials” from John Milton’s Paradise Lost in Book II. Also, The Golden Compass is the first book in a three volume set. The other two books are also on my list.

Nancy said: Nancy describes the overarching theme of Pullman’s His Dark Materials. She then goes on to say Pullman’s “finest invention was the daemon” (Book Lust p 209).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romans-Fleuves” (p 208).


Foolscap, or, the Stages of Love

Malone, Michael. Foolscap, or, the Stages of Love. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1991.

Reason read: Malone celebrates his birthday in November. Read in his honor.

Meet Theo Ryan, the product of the union between a famous actor and singer. Despite his parents’s lime lights, all he wants to do is quietly teach Renaissance drama at a North Carolina university and write in his spare time. All that goes out the window when he agrees to write the authorized biography for Joshua “Ford” Rexford, an insanely popular playwright, womanizer and drunk. Nothing about Theo Ryan’s life will ever be the same after Rexford infiltrates his quiet existence. Suddenly, Theo is an actor, a singer, and he’s about to unleash his own work of art on the world, a fantastic play he’s kept private for years…
Quote I liked, “Atop the Coolidge Building Dean Buddy Tupper, Jr. stood at his post by the huge window, watching his enemies below” (p 94).

A digression: Winifred Throckmorton is a retired Oxford don. I just finished reading The Oxford Book of Oxford edited by Jan Morris. Interestingly enough, my opinion of Ms. Throckmorton was slightly tainted by this fact.
Another aside, Malone has a character who raps his overly large ring on his desk to emphasize a point. I have to wonder if the writers from “House of Cards” stole that.

Author fact: Over and over I have read that Malone writes a completely different book every time. what you loved in a previous book might not show up in the next book, but somehow you end up loving the next book just the same.

Nancy said: Nancy did not say anything specific about Foolscap in Book Lust. In More Book Lust Pearl describes the plot.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Southern Fiction” (p 222). Also, from More Book Lust in the chapter “Michael Malone: Too Good To Miss” (p 160).


Martin Dressler

Millhauser, Steven. Martin Dressler. New York: Random House, 1996.

Reason read: November is a fascinating time to be in New York City.

Martin Dressler, the ambitious son of a cigar maker, has big dreams even as a young child. He starts by delivering cigars for his father and finds an ingenious  way to make profits soar. As a teenager, he starts his career employed as a young hotel bellhop. He catches the eye of the hotel owner and soon becomes his secretary and mentor. As a young man he falls under the spell of a mother and her two grown daughters while building hotels of his own. One daughter becomes his business partner when he delves into opening a chain of diners while the other daughter, Caroline, mystifies him with her silent, elusive personality. She reminds him of a girl he used to know…Strangely enough, he ends up marrying this shadowy, ghostly woman.
This is not a coming of age story. Readers watch as Martin goes through childhood and teenage years to adulthood without exposing friendships; it’s as if he doesn’t have any, puberty, or any other angst-y growing up tribulation. His personality is firmly grounded in business. There is a moment when Martin decides it is time for him to lose his virginity and almost without ceremony or fanfare, he visits a brothel. This becomes a matter of fact, once a week habit he continues into adulthood. Not much is made of sex either way. However, his wedding night is particularly uncomfortable.

What is especially fun to watch is late nineteenth century New York City growing up along side Martin. The street names change over the years. Buildings grow taller. Oil lamps are crowded out by electricity one by one. The Manhattan we know today competes with Martin’s metropolis of his dreams until they are both so large there isn’t room enough for the both of them. But, which New York lives on?

Quotes I found interesting, “She looked like a new painting, all wet and shiny, but already she was fading into the darkness between lamps” (p 138) and “Here in the other world, here in the world beyond the world, anything was possible” (p 292).

Author fact: at the time of publication, Millhauser taught at Skidmore College.

Book trivia: Martin Dressler won a Pulitzer Prize.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Martin Dressler in Book Lust, but in Book Lust To Go she hinted the book takes place in New York, but it’s not the Manhattan we know (Book Lust To Go p 236).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust from the chapter called “New York, New York” (p 170). Also from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Travel To Imaginary Places” (p 236).


Ceremony

Silko. Ceremony. New York: Penguin Books, 1986,

Reason read: November is American Indian Heritage month.

I like to compare reading Silko to drinking a icy cold glass of limoncello. It is not the kind of thing you gulp down in chug-a-lug like fashion. It is better to take in small sips of the scenes in order to let them slide over your subconscious and filter slowly into your brain. Think of it this way. It is as if you have to give the words time to mellow and ultimately saturate your mind.

First things first. When you get into the plot of Ceremony what you first discover is that Tayo is a complicated character. After being a prisoner of the Japanese during World War II, alcoholism, battle fatigue (now called post traumatic stress disorder), mental illness, and guilt all plague Tayo. It’s as if threads of guilt tangle in his mind, strangling his ability to comprehend reality, especially when other veterans on the Laguna Pueblo reservation turn to sex, alcohol and violence to cope. Friends are no longer friendly.
Next, what is important to pay attention to are the various timelines. There is the time before the war and the time after at the mental health facility with the timeline with Thought (Spider) Woman, Corn Woman, and Reed Woman. Each timeline dips back and forth throughout the story. Tayo struggles to reconcile what it means to be Native American, with all its traditions and beliefs, with the horrors of war and captivity. How does one as gentle as Tayo forgive himself for being a soldier? “He stepped carefully, pushing the toe of his boot into the weeds first to make sure the grasshoppers were gone before he set his foot down into the crackling leathery stalks of dead sunflowers” (p 155). He can’t even inadvertently harm a bug.
Interspersed between the plot are pages of lyrical poetry.
Throughout it all, I found myself weeping for Tayo’s lost soul.

Quotes I liked, “Somewhere, from another room, he heard a clock ticking slowly and distinctly, as if the years, the centuries, were lost in that sound. (p 98) and “But as long as you remember, it is part of the story we have together” (p 231).

Author fact: Silko was born in Albuquerque in 1948, the same year as my mother.

Book trivia: As I mentioned earlier, Silko’s poetry is part of the story.

Nancy said: Nancy said Leslie Marmon Silko is one of her favorite American Indian writers.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “American Indian Literature” (p 23).


Patience and Sarah

Miller, Isabel. Patience and Sarah. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 1969.

Reason read: Alma Routsong was born in November; read in her honor.

This is such a fascinating story. Isabel Miller learns of two real life pioneering women, Mary Ann Willson and her partner, known only as “Miss Brundage,” and has to write about them. Willson and Brundage set off to find a place where they could live as an openly homosexual couple. Their courage sparked a story in Miller and Patience and Sarah was born.
To meet the women: Sarah Dowling was raised as a boy; taught to shoot a gun and chop firewood like a man. In Patience’s mind, Sarah needed rescuing from that existence. Patience White was a demure and quiet painter, but it was she who started planting the seeds of running away early in her relationship with Sarah. “But could you take it pioneering with you?” Patience asked of the ax Sarah was wielding.
Patience and Sarah was originally published under the title, A Place For Us. The book ends with Patience and Sarah leaving their old lives behind to find a new place where they could be themselves as a couple. Their love endures ridicule and prejudice and even among themselves they harbor doubts. Sheer courage carries them forward.
Patience and Sarah could be considered the very first lesbian historical novel.

Lines I loved (and there were many), “Women might peck at her with their sharp mean noses” (p 18), “There would be no way out except through” (p 49), and, “…but as soon as he kissed me I knew I could not live a life where that happened all the time” (p 102).
Lines about love, “I keep thinking every shadow is you” (p 47), and “I felt my heart melt and drip off my fingertips” (p 105).

Author fact: Isabel Miller is a pseudonym for Alma Routsong. Alma took her mother’s maiden name (Miller) and an anagram of the word lesbia (Isabel) to form her pen name. Another interesting fact is that Isabel left her husband and four children. Luckily, they all forgave her.

Book trivia: The American Library Association honored Patience and Sarah with its first ever Gay Book of the Year Award in 1971. Another last piece of trivia: the book was made into an opera in 1998. That seems a little odd to me.

Nancy said: Pearl said it would be “interesting to compare” The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall to Miller’s Patience and Sarah. (Book Lust p 94).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Gay and Lesbian Fiction: Out of the Closet” (p 93).


Bridge on the Drina

Ivo, Andric. The Bridge on the Drina. Translated by Lovett F. Edwards. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977.

Reason read: Mehmed Pasha built the bridge on the Drina and was born in October. Read in his honor.

The bridge on the Drina stands as a silent character in Bridge on the Drina and acts as a symbol for life. As civilization is buckling, the bridge stands solid, spying on and witness to all humanity. . It is an integral part of the community. If you were Christian and lived on the left bank you had to cross the bridge to be christened on the right side. It was a sources of food as people fished from it or hunted doves from under it. It had historical significance as families shared legends about it. Andric takes us through the sixteenth century and the laborious construction of the bridge to four hundred years later and the modernized twentieth century and how the bridge became a symbol across generations. It all started with the tortured memory of the grand Vizier. How, as a young boy, he was forcibly removed from his mother during the Ottoman crusades. The river Drina is where he lost sight of her. Hence, the bridge.

Quote I liked, “The story was noised far and abroad” (p 36).

Author fact: Ivo Andric won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961. Another piece of trivia: Andric grew up on the banks of the Drina.

Book trivia: the introduction to Bridge on the Drina gives the history of Bosnia. It helps ground the reader to a sense of place.

Nancy said: “The Bridge on the Drina describes the relationships between various ethnic groupings in a small Bosnian town from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries” (Book Lust p 32).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Balkan Specters” (p 31).


Call It Sleep

Roth, Henry. Call It Sleep. New York: Penguin Classics, 2006.
Roth, Henry. Call It Sleep. Read by George Guidall. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 1994.

Reason read: The Yom Kippur War in October.

[For my own state of mind I really should ban reading overly sad books with traumatic endings.] Told from the perspective of six year old David Schearl, Call It Sleep relates the hardships of immigrant life in turn of the century gritty New York City. In the prologue, David and his mother arrive from Austria to join her abusive and angry husband. This is the of the few times the narrative is outside little six year old David’s head. The majority of the story is a stream of consciousness, skillfully painting a portrait of inner city life from a child’s point of view.
As an aside, in the beginning I questioned why David’s father would abhor David to the point of criminal abuse. It took awhile to figure out why.
But, back to little David. His young life is filled with fear. He is overwhelmed by language differences between Yiddish and English, overly sensitive to the actions of his peers, clings to his mother with Freudian zeal. I found him to be a really hopeless child and my heart bled for him. While most of the story is bleak, there is the tiniest ray of hope at the end. The pessimists in the crowd might have a negative explanation for what David’s father does, but I saw it as a small gesture of asking for forgiveness.
As another aside, Roth’s interpretation of the Jewish Austrian dialect was, at times, difficult to hear in my hear. Listening to George Guidall was much easier.

Quotes I liked, “Go snarl up your own wits” (p 157), “David’s toes crawled back and forth upon a small space on the sole of his shoe” (p 186), and “…clacking like nine pins before a heavy bowl of mirth they tumbled about the sidewalk” (p 292).

Author fact: Henry Roth is often confused with Philip Roth. I’m guilty of doing it a few times. The real Author Fact is that Henry Roth didn’t write another novel after Call It Sleep until he was 88 years old, sixty years after Call It Sleep was first published.

Book trivia: Call It Sleep was Henry Roth’s first novel, written when he was under thirty.

Nancy said: Nancy simply explains a little of the plot of Call It Sleep.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “The Jewish American Experience” (p 133).