Lost

Treichel, Hans-Ulrich. Lost. Translated by Carol Brown Janeway. Pantheon Books, 1999.

Reason read: April is known for April Fool’s Day. Lost is known for its black humor.

Who is more important? The son who didn’t go missing in1945 or the lost son who has the potential to be found? When we think of war, we think of brave soldiers on the battlefield; soldiers sustaining horrific wounds and giving up previous lives. We hardly think of the refugees, the byproducts of conflict. Treichel tells the German story of an-every wartime family fleeing Russian encroachment. In haste and confusion, an infant is handed off for safe keeping, never to be seen again. Despite having a second son, the parents never forget their firstborn son, Arnold. When this second son is told the story of his missing older brother he is only eight years old and wise enough to know that if Arnold is found, his life will change forever. As the younger and more insignificant brother, he will have to share everything he has had to himself for his entire life. Thus begins his story of his parents’ obsessive journey to identify Arnold. Told through the first person lens of an eight year old, the narration is at turns darkly funny and heartbreaking.
Treichel speaks volumes in the things he doesn’t say, “…the dreadful thing that the Russians had done to them, my mother in particular” (p 13). Is he talking about the event when his older brother was “lost” or something more sinister? Is he implying rape?

Author fact: Lost is Treichel’s first novel.

Book trivia: Lost has been called a “small masterpiece” by several reviewers. Indeed, being only 136 pages long, it is a tiny but well written book. Interestingly enough, there are no chapters or even paragraphs.

Nancy said: While Lost is mentioned twice, neither time does Pearl say anything more about the book than to describe the plot.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust twice. First in the chapter called “Black Humor” (p 40). and then again in the chapter called “First Novels” (p 87).


The Other Boleyn Girl

Gregory, Philippa. The Other Boleyn Girl. Simon & Schuster, 2001.

Reason read: March is Women’s History Month

The year is 1521. One of Mary Boleyn’s uncle has just been ceremoniously executed; beheaded in front of the entire watchful community. Married at twelve years old, aristocrat Mary Boleyn no longer thinks life is a joke. She definitely isn’t laughing when her father and uncle start putting Mary in King Henry the VIII’s way. The devious plot is to woo the philandering king away from his Spanish wife who, horrors upon horrors, hasn’t been able to produce an heir to the throne. Mary, successfully in capturing Henry’s attention, also succeeds in giving Henry first a daughter and then a much needed son. Unfortunately, despite wanting this heir to the throne, King Henry desires every last ounce of Mary’s attention. When motherhood agrees with Mary and she starts to dote on her children more than the needy king, she quickly loses favor with Henry and his court. This isn’t good. The more dear a Boleyn girl is to the throne, the more her family benefits. Which is why no one cares when Mary’s sister, Anne, begins to seduce the king right under Mary’s nose. Never mind the king is married. Never mind that Mary is married. You get the picture. King Henry the VIII switches love interests as often as the tower beheads people.
The moral of the story is stand too close to the sun and you will get burned.

Author fact: Gregory has written many, many other books but The Other Boleyn Girl is the only one I am reading for the Challenge.

Book trivia: The Other Boleyn Girl is first in the series. The next is The Queen’s Fool but I’m not reading it for the Challenge.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about The Other Boleyn Girl except to explain the plot.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Biographical Novels” (p 37).


With Bold Knife and Fork

Fisher, M.F.K. With Bold Knife and Fork. G.P. Putnam and sons, 1968.

Reason read: March is Food Month.

Fisher is one of the best known and well loved food writers of the last century. When I told someone I was reading With Bold Knife and Fork her immediate reaction was a one word exclamation, “love!” And speaking of love, I loved, loved, loved some of the snarky phrases Fisher used. Here are a few, “…floating dunghill of lassitude, corruption, dirt, and whatever evil I have ever recognized as such” (p 171), “Stuffed with prejudices” (p 287) and “culinary monkey” (p 291). But, back to the “plot” of With Bold Knife and Fork. Fisher will walk you down a myriad of memory lanes with food and how it related to her childhood or the social norms of the day. It was amusing to think of a very young M.F.K. Fisher as a child hearing the siren’s song and feeling the pull towards decadent food. There is a definite humor to her storytelling. I had to laugh when she talked about a pressure cooker and how “it should never be used by a person taking tranquilizers or alcohol for his own reasons, or one with a fever or the deep blues” (p 164). There is also a didactic nature to Fisher. I appreciated learning the difference between preserves, conserves, jellies, jams, honeys, and marmalades.
As an aside, what is so special about offal? Everything But The Squeal and With Bold Knife and Fork both offer pretty descriptive passages on the “delicacy.” Can is ask? The phrase, “tuck into.” Is that the act of starting to eat or the actual consumption of food?
Last off-topic observation: the quote reminded me of an episode of This Is Us, “We are so conditioned to this threat of the Secret Ingredient, and this acceptance of trickery, that even honesty has become suspect when we are brash enough to ask for recipes” (p 292).

Author fact: Fisher is a self-professed soy addict.

Book trivia: More memoir than cookbook, With Bold Knife and Fork offers 140 interesting recipes.

Favorite quotes, “Rice can be cooked in two basic ways, right and wrong” (p 79). Not helpful. Not helpful at all. Another quote, “There is a mistaken idea, ancient but still with us, that an overdose of anything from fornication to hot chocolate will teach restraint by the very results of its abuse” (p 99). One last one, “I like tomatoes but can skip them when I know I should for other people’s dietary or emotional reasons” (p 157), and last one “It is hot as the hinges of hell’s front door…” (p 302). the devil in me wanted to ask what about hell’s back door?

Playlist: “Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear” and “W.S. gilbert’s “Patience.”

Nancy said: Pearl said writing about food is how Fisher expressed her love.

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


Man in the Box

Dunn, Mary Lois. The Man in the Box: a Story From Vietnam. McGraw Hill, 1968.

Reason read: I read somewhere that March 8th is Hug a G.I. Day. I read this in honor of the thousands of men kept in little boxes from every war.

If you read this book with a child’s intent, it is a story about a young boy who knows the worth of a human life and tries with heroic measures to save it. If you read this book with an adult’s cynicism, it is a book that glorifies American soldiers in the Vietnam War and completely misses the point of the Vietnamese culture. My advice is to read it as Mary Lois Dunn intended: as a story for children. Chau Li witnesses the horrible torture of an American soldier kept cramped prisoner in a small cane box. His own father suffered in same-such box but did not survive the brutality. Determined to somehow save the American, Chau Li risks everything to squirrel “Dah Vid” away in a cave until together they can safely rejoin the Green Barets hidden somewhere in the deep Vietnamese jungle. As they hide out from the Viet Cong Chau Li and Dah Vid grow close, form a friendship and make unrealistic promises. Spoiler alert: the end is ambiguous which is surprising for a book meant for children.

Author fact: Mary Lois Dunn was a librarian.

Book trivia: The Man in the Box won the Oklahoma Sequoyah Children’s Book Award in 1968.

Nancy said: Pearl called The Man in the Box “harrowing and sad” and although it is long out of print, it is “definitely worth tracking down” (Book Lust p 115).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Historical Fiction For Kids Of All Ages” (p 115).


Heaven and Earth

Roberts, Nora. Heaven and Earth. Jove Books, 2001.

Reason read: to continue the series started in honor of love (February 14th). All you need is love, love, love. Right?

In the Three Sisters Island trilogy, the plot of Heaven and Earth turns away from Nell and directs its focus onto Sheriff’s Deputy, Ripley Karen Todd. Before I go any further with the plot, I have to say there is always a popular formula to love and romance in bodice rippers: stubborn character refuses to accept second character’s heartthrob’s advances. However, handsome or beautiful second character is persistent. Very persistent with a charming veneer. Heaven and Earth is no different. Ripley is the stubborn one and newly arrived MacAllister Booke is persistent and charming. Be warned ladies, he also has a strong jaw. The problem lies in the fact MacAllister’s life work is researching people of the strange ilk: shaman, vampire, ghost, brujo, necromancer, witch, lycanthrope, alien, psychic, and neo-druid all interest him. Ripley doesn’t want to be researched. She doesn’t even like being associated with weird. There were more than a few times I resisted the urge to roll my eyes after reading lines like this, “She caught the unmistakable scent of Nell’s beef-and-barley soup and quickly decided it was that, and that alone, that was making her mouth water” (p 50). Yes, the hunky and irresistible MacAllister Booke was in Ripley’s presence.
Having said all that, I appreciated the consistency from one novel to the next. Ripley is still locked in a battle of wills with Mia Devlin. Ripley still resents the fact that she, at heart, is a witch. She’ll need to come to terms with this when Nell’s ex-husband convinces a shady reporter to pay the residents of Three Sisters Island a visit. It takes an ominous turn from there.
A word of obvious warning: Heaven and Earth is a little dated. A $20 spot as a bribe wouldn’t get you boo. These days a Benjamin is a good place to start.

As an aside, what brother calls his sister, “baby”? It kind of made my skin crawl.

Quotes to quote (aside from the eye-roll inducing ones), “He always liked the sound of the sea, especially at night when it seemed to fill the world” (p 37). Amen to that. Another one I wish could have been reworked, “A headache blasted his temples” (p 250).

Author fact: Did you know there is a Romance Writers Hall of Fame and Roberts was the first one to be inducted?

Book trivia: Heaven and Earth is the second installment of the trilogy.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Heaven and Earth except to list it out of chronological order.

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


Commitments

Doyle, Roddy. The Commitments. Vintage Contemporaries, 1989.

Reason read: The Commitments takes place in Dublin, Ireland and St. Patrick’s Day is in March. Plus, I needed a book about music for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.

Having never seen the movie of the same name, I had no idea what to expect from the book. Much the same way “The Full Monty” made me laugh out loud, so did The Commitments. It’s a fun read. A lively group of young unemployed men and women want to be a band. They want to be famous and rake in the money, but they don’t know what it takes. When they hire a manager the first thing he tells them is that they will be a soul band. The then instructs them to stretch themselves to find out what “soul” means to them: the streets? The act of getting outside one’s self? What they learn is that relationships are hard and people are complicated. Doyle takes us through the first installment of the Barrytown trilogy with humor and grit.

Quote to quote, “For a few minutes the Commitments broke up” (p 64). Aint love grand?

Author fact: Doyle has won the Booker Prize.

Book trivia: Despite The Commitments being more of a novella at 154 pages, it was made into a movie in 1991.

Playlist (and there is a lot): Animal (from the Muppets), Al Green, BB King, Big Joe Turner, the Byrds, Bruce Springsteen, Berry Gordy, BP Fallon, Blood Sweat and Tears, the Beatles, Booker T and the MGs, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Charlie Parker, the Crystals, Depeche Mode, Diana Ross, Dolly Parton, Eddie Floyd, Eddie and the Red Hots, Echo and the Bunnymen, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Frank Sinatra, the Four Tops, George Michael, Gladys Knight, George Jones, Herbie Hancock, Human League, Isaac Hayes, John Coltrane, Joey Irish Fagan, Jackie Wilson, Jethro Tull, Joe Rex, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Led Zeppelin, Little Richard, Lamont Dozier, the Monkees, Madness, Madonna, Martha Reeves, Marvin Gaye, Microdisney, Martha and the Vandellas, Otis Redding, Phil Lynott, Peter Tosh, Percy Sledge, the Ronettes, Roxy Music, Rolling Stones, the Shangra-Las, Simple Minds, Smokey Robinson, the Supremes, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Steve Cropper, Sam Cooke, the Strangles, Stevie Wonder, Screaming Blue Messiahs, Scraping Foetus Off the Wheel, the Specials, Tina Turner, U2, Wilson Pickett, and Yoko Ono.
Songs: “Anything Goes,” “Bells of Rhymney,” “Chain Gang,” “Dancing in the Streets,” “Get On Up,” “Knock on Wood,” “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” “I Thank You,” “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better,” “Louise,” “The Lord is My Shepard,” “Masters and Servants,” “My Girl,” “Morning Has Broken,” “Moon River,” “Night Train,” “Out of Sight,” “Papa Got a Brand New Bag,” “Relax,” “Reach Out (I’ll Be There),” “Sex Machine,” “Stop in the Name of Love,” “Stoned Love,” “Tracks of My Tears,” “When a Man Loves a Woman,” “Walking in the Rain,” and “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted.”

Nancy said: Pearl mentioned the “Barrytown Trilogy” as an example of humorous Irish fiction even though she feels on the whole, fiction coming out of Ireland is sad.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Irish Fiction” (p 125).


Invisible Man

Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. Vintage, 1995.

Reason read: February is National Black History Month.

Invisible Man’s nameless southern protagonist forces the reader to run the gamut of emotions: by turns we are frightened, touched, shocked, amused, even pitying and hopeful. When we first meet him, he lives on the hem of society in an unused part of the basement of a building for whites. He steals shelter and electricity like a boogeyman. He is truly invisible. There comes a point in time when he tries to reach the light by going to college only to be expelled after being accused of offending a white man. Invisible again. Through various trials and tribulations this nameless young man finally makes it to New York where he is confronted with the reality of his race. His lack of identity allows him to be mistaken for someone else. As he becomes more and more invisible, the more and more I wanted him to rage against it. The problem is, when you are a young black man trying to escape the white man’s thumb in the 1940s, rage is the last emotion you are allowed to express. Every endeavor leads him closer to destruction. Like a horror movie, I wanted to read Invisible Man with one eye closed against all the gross misunderstandings prejudice and racism can bring.

Quote to quote, “The light is the truth, and truth is the light” (p 7).

Author fact: Ellison was a literary scholar and essayist in addition to a novelist.

Book trivia: Modern Library called Invisible Man one of the top 100 novels of all time. Others have used words like monumental and epic to describe it. It won a National Book Award in 1953.

Playlist: Louis Armstrong’s “What Did I Do to Be So Black and Blue?” Dvorak’s New World Symphony, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Old Man river,”

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Invisible Man except to include it in a list of one hundred good reads.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade: 1950s” (p 177).


On Death and Dying

Kubler-Ross, Elisabeth. On Death and Dying. Scribner Classics, 1969.

Reason read: February is Psychology month. Also, I needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge in the category of a book published in the year I was born. There you go.

How do you look someone in the eye and tell them they are dying? Sure, every single one of us is dying by increments every single day. Some of us will die tomorrow, without warning. No fanfare. But, how do you tell someone they will die in a month? In a week? Days? On Death and Dying is exactly that, a chance to talk to terminally ill patients; to have a candid talk about what it means to moving towards death sooner rather than later. Kubler-Ross and her students interviewed over 200 patients towards this end. I think it is safe to safe we know what emerged from this seminal work:
Stage One: Denial and Isolation
Stage Two: Anger – the “Why Me?” stage.
Stage Three: Bargaining – not a lot to say about this stage except to say it is very childlike in believing you can strike a deal with a higher power to avoid death.
Stage Four: Depression (the stage I think I would live within the longest).
Stage Five: Acceptance. This is the most difficult of all the stages to reach. Even after achieving acceptance, it is easy for the patient to revert back to an earlier stage such as anger or denial. Stage five is also difficult for the patient’s loved ones. How many families see a patient’s acceptance as resignation or a loss of will to live? One must remember there are defense mechanisms as well as coping mechanisms at play.
My biggest takeaway from reading On Death and Dying is how the more training and experience a physician had, the less ready he or she was to become involved in Kubler-Ross’s interviews. It is as if they lost the ability to see the patient as a human with a right to know their terminal future. We need to bring compassion back at every level of care.

As an aside, my husband could rattle off the five stages of grief as if he had sat in a Psychology class yesterday. He explained the anacronym I had never heard before, DABDA.

Quote to quote, “If a patient is allowed to terminate his life in the familiar and beloved environment, it requires less adjustment for him” (p 48).
Favorite quote, “Those who have the strength and the love to sit with the dying patient in the silence that goes beyond words will know that this moment is neither frightening nor painful, but a peaceful cessation of the functioning of the body” (p 276).

Author fact: Kubler-Ross died in 2004. As an aside, I cannot help but wonder what Dr. Kubler-Ross would have thought about Covid.

Book trivia: On Death and Dying has been translated into twenty-seven languages.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about On Death and Dying except to explain how the book was constructed.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 100s” (p 63).


Hope is the Thing with Feathers

Cokinos, Christopher. Hope is the Thing with Feathers: a Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds. Jeremy A. Tarcher/Putnam, 2000.

Reason read: February is Feed the Birds Month. I don’t know why. Maybe because it’s the coldest part of winter?

Cokinos spent ten years researching the life and subsequent extinction of six birds: Passenger Pigeon, Carolina Parakeet, Labrador Duck, Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, Heath Hen, and the Great Auk.
I find it terribly sad that no one knows the exact date of the demise of the Carolina Parakeet, but then again that’s probably true of many extinct species. Right? How do we really know when we have seen the very last whatever? Here are details from Hope is the Thing with Feathers that will stick with me for a very long time: the Heath Hen has been compared to the Greater Prairie Chicken for their myriad of similarities. Their mating sounds are practical identical. Is that why no one took the extinction of the Heath Hen seriously? Were they so abundant they fell victim to overhunting; were they that easy to massacre? Is that what happened to the Passenger Pigeon? The cruelty inflicted on these birds was difficult to read. Cokinos gets into the question of cloning. Can you clone a species which has gone completely extinct? Can we have a Jurassic Park moment on a less dangerous scale?
Besides hunting, another factor wreaking havoc on bird populations was deforestation. Singer Sewing Machine purchased the nesting grounds of Lord God birds. Then they sold the rights to logging companies who cleared the land, destroying everything in its path. This happened over and over again.

Quotes to quote: “He also played sad songs on his flute” (p 62), “…thus the titanic vanishing of the Passenger Pigeon concluded, finally, on the bottom of a cage in the middle of a city busy with commerce and worry about war” (p 267), and “We ought not underestimate the elegance of individual decisions coupled with communal actions – a bird seen, a refuge protected, a vote changed – especially as they accumulate one by one, the way barbs and barbules of a feather hold together” (p 334).

Author fact: Cokinos is an excellent researcher. The amount of time and effort that went into verifying the shooting of the past Passenger Pigeon was astounding.

Book trivia: the title of the book comes from the title of my favorite Emily Dickinson poem.

Playlist: Steve Lawrence, “Maple Leaf Rag,” and the sound of birds singing.

Nancy said: Pearl explains the plot of Hope is the Thing with Feathers.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Bird Brains” (p 40).


Perelandra

Lewis, C.S. Perelandra. Scribner, 2003.

Reason read: January is National Science Fiction month.

Every time I read a science fiction of Lewis’s I can’t help but think of The Wardrobe series and how it could have easily been written in an even more fantastic manner. Instead of an unknown land beyond a wardrobe, the children could have landed on a completely different planet in a completely different universe. But I digress…
Perelandra is a Planet of Pleasure (Venus) where strange desires give way to shameless naked beauty much like the Garden of Eden. Meanwhile, Evil is trying to create a New World Order. Sound familiar? Religion is heavy-handed and ever present in Lewis’s work. Perelandra is either orgasmic or hellish; hideous or beautiful. The colors are vibrant and throbbing: gold and green oceans and silver flashes across the sky. That was the element of Perelandra I liked the best. The imagery was fantastic.
Here’s a stereotype: Ransom needs to travel naked like so many other time travelers. I guess clothes are hard to transmute through time and space.

Author fact: I don’t think I have mentioned this before, but Lewis was an academic.

Book trivia: Perelandra was also called Voyage to Venus.

Nancy said: Pearl put Perelandra in the category of fantasy.

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


Rebecca

Du Maurier, Daphne. Rebecca. Harper, 1938.

Reason read: as a “romance” I chose Rebecca for Valentine’s Day. For the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge, I chose it for the category of a book where a house is featured predominantly. Manderley is that house.

I took Rebecca to Florida for a five day trip and in that short time I devoured the entire book from start to finish. I can see why it has never gone out of print. Rebecca is a true psychological thriller that doesn’t need blood and gore to make it creepy. Even though the ghost of Rebecca never makes an appearance, you can feel her presence in every scene. In a nutshell, a young and inexperienced traveling companion falls in love with a much older widower while vacationing in Monte Carlo. Before meeting him, she heard all the rumors about how his wife tragically drowned in a sailing accident less than a year prior. She has heard all about his palatial estate, Manderley, handed down from generation to generation. Rather than travel on to New York as a companion, Mr. de Winter asks our unnamed heroine for her hand in marriage. And so begins the adventure. No one really likes the new Mrs. de Winter and Rebecca’s ghost seems to be everywhere thanks to Mrs. Danvers, the former Mrs. de Winter’s personal assistant. Danny just won’t let Rebecca die. While Rebecca does not make an appearance anywhere in the novel, her presence is felt everywhere.

As an aside, I wish Daphne Du Maurier was still alive to answer questions about Rebecca. Actually, I have questions about both the book and the character. The first Mrs. de Winter fascinates me.

Author fact: Du Maurier won the Anthony Award for Best Novel of the Century with Rebecca.

Book trivia: My edition of Rebecca included a note from the editor, an author’s note, and the original epilogue.

Nancy said: in Book Lust Pearl said Rebecca is an annual read for some fans. In More Book Lust Pearl mentioned liking the opening line to Rebecca.

Setlist: Destiny’s Waltz, the Blue Danube, Merry Widow, Auld Lang Syne, Good Save the Queen.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romance Novels: Our Love is Here to Stay” (p 203). From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Lines That Linger; Sentences That Stick” (p 140). Lastly, from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cornwall’s Charm” (p 71). You can always tell when Pearl likes a book. She mentioned it either a bunch of times in one Book Lust or it makes its way into all three.


Dance Upon the Air

Roberts, Nora. Dance Upon the Air. Jove, 2001.

Reason read: Valentine’s Day is in February. Read Dance Upon the Air in honor of love.

I always read romance novels with a grain of smirk. I can get easily irritated by fluffy characters and airy dialogue. For example, Dance Upon the Air: who hires a complete stranger at first sight, lends them money, gives them a house, and puts them in charge of a business inside a ten minute conversation? A witch, that’s who. Of course. Having another character point out this generosity weirdness doesn’t make it any more believable until you remind yourself (again) that Mia Devlin is a witch and she’s totally comfortable giving a stranger control of her bookstore bakery. She more than knows what she’s doing when stranger “Nell” shows up in her bakery and announces she knows how to bake, run a business, and charm the socks off everyone she meets.
Nell is on the run. But, this is a romance novel so of course there is the hunky (and very single, of course) sheriff of the island who knows Nell is not Nell. However, he’s sexually attracted to her (of course he is) so he’s not about to scare her off with his suspicions. There needs to be the overly tough, slightly rebellious sister who is, by the way, a cop (of course she is).
In a nutshell: strange woman shows up on a small island where everyone will talk. She’s hiding out from an abusive husband who thinks she’s dead. She is so charming that by the time deadly hubby figures out where she is, the entire island is behind her. The plotline of Dance Upon the Air totally reminded me of the movie Sleeping with the Enemy, but I would have to think there are hundreds of victim-runs-away-from-abuser-to-start-a-new-life stories out there. Don’t forget the witches.

Author fact: Roberts has at least three pennames.

Book trivia: Dance Upon the Air is the first book in the Three Sisters trilogy. I am reading all three for the Challenge.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about the Three sisters Island trilogy except to list the three books. More on that later.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romance Novels: Our Love is Here to Stay” (p ). Again! I am always irritated with myself when I don’t do the homework before starting a series. Pearl lists the books in the trilogy out of chronological order. Of course she lists the last title of the series first. Like a blind sheep, I borrowed the last book first. Bah, bah.


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Smith, Betty. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2005.

Reason read: I needed a book for the Portland Public Library 2022 Reading Challenge in the category of “A book that makes you feel hopeful for the future.” I don’t know why, but this one does.

It was pointed out that in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn nothing happens. There is no over-the-top drama involving sex, violence, or rock and roll. Instead, A Tree is a simple and honest story about what it means to be human. Harsh realities about poverty, crime, alcoholism, life, and death are not ignored or sugarcoated. I would argue that something does happen in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. A little girl comes of age. In the summer of 1912 Francie Nolan was a scrappy eleven year old. At the time, her best friend was a tree that seemed to like poor people. By the end of the story, Francie has lost her father, gained a baby sister, managed to find her way to college, and started to date. It is a story of hope.
One of my favorite moments was when Francie understands for the first time she can read and the fact she would never be lonely again. Books would be her companions for any circumstance. Another favorite scene was when Francie graduates and she receives roses from her deceased daddy. It broke my heart.

Confessional: The scene when Katie is playing the piano with the children bothered me. Neely starts to sign and it is noted his voice is starting to change. It is then that Francie remarks, “You know what Mama would say if she were sitting here now?” Where did she go? She was just playing the piano. I think Smith meant Johnny. Johnny was the one who was missing from the scene.

Signs of the times, “He was a boy, he handled the money.” The candy store was a boys store and Francie had to wait outside while her brother bought her candy.

Phrasing I adored, “ground-down poor” and “helpless relaxation.”

Author fact: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has such clarity it is impossible to ignore its autobiographical nature. Rumor has it, Smith originally wrote the story as a memoir but her publishers urged her to fictionalize it to reach a wider audience. Could they not handle the truth?

Book trivia: My edition had a foreword by Anna Quinlan. She compared Francie to Jo March, Betsy Ray, and Anne of Green Gables. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was also published in an Armed Services edition. The wartime copy was specially sized to fit in a soldier’s rucksack.

Playlist: because Francie’s father is a singing waiter there were lots of great tunes mentioned in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: “There are Smiles That Make You Happy,” At the Darkstrutters’ Ball,” “When You’re a Long, Long Way From Home,” “My Wild Rose,” “Hello, Central, Give Me No Man’s Land,” “You’ll find Old Dixieland in France,” There’s a Quaker Down in Quaker Time,” Ted Lewis’s “For When My Baby Smiles at Me,” “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” (a song I can remember my mother singing while she vacuumed), “Molly Malone,” “The Soldier’s Chorus,” “When I Get You Alone Tonight,” “Sweet Rosie O’Grady,” “She May Have Seen Better Days,” “I’m Wearin’ My Heart Away for You,” “Ave Maria,” “Beautiful Blue Danube,” “At the Devil’s Ball,” “My Sweetheart’s the Man in the Moon,” “Kerry Dancers,” “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” Harrigan, That’s Me,” “The River Shannon,” “Holy Night,” “Star Spangled Banner,” “Schubert Serenade,” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “Call Me Up Some Rainy Afternoon,” Handle’s “Largo,” Dvorak’s “New World Symphony,” Verdi, Walter Wildflower, “O, Sole Mio,” “Some Sunday Morning,” “Auld Lang Syne,” “Silent night,” “Annie Laurie,” “Last Rose of Summer,” “Sweet Adeline,” “Down By the Old Mill Stream,” “A Shanty in Shantytown,” “When You Wore a Tulip,” “Dear Old Girl,” ” I’m Sorry I made You Cry,” “Over There,” “K-K-Katy,” “The Rose of No Man’s Land,” “Mother Macree,” and “The Band Played On.”

Nancy said: Pearl called A Tree Grows in Brooklyn a “classic coming-of-age” story.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Girls Growing Up” (p 101).


Lottery

Jackson, Shirley. The Lottery. Amereon Limited, 1976.

I don’t think I have to explain the plot to anyone. In one sentence: it is the short story of a community that annually choses someone to stone to death. I had so many questions as a teenager reading The Lottery in high school. Who was the third person narrator and why do they never express emotion or share the thoughts and feelings of other characters? It’s as if the scene they describe is too horrible for humanity and they purposely keep their distance by staying out of the other characters’ heads. As a result, the dialogue has to be heavy and masterful enough to carry the action. Otherwise, no one would understand what is truly going on. The other questions I had: Who was Mr. Summers and why does he get to conduct the lottery? Who came up with the black box in the first place? If everyone avoids the black box and keeps their distance from it, why have it around at all? No one wanted to help Mr. Summers even move it. Did this community continue using the box just because of tradition? Lastly, how does Jackson as a young mother come up with something like this?

Reason read: Shirley Jackson was born in December. Read in her honor.

Author fact: Jackson is bets known for her horror.

Book trivia: The Lottery first appeared in “The New Yorker in 1948. It was awarded the O Henry Award in 1963.

Nancy said: Pearl described The Lottery as “endlessly anthologized.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Ghost Stories” (p 100).


Spartina

Casey, John. Spartina. New York: Vintage Books, 1998.

Reason read: Read in respect for the December storms that batter the New England coastline.

Rhode Islander Dick Pierce suffers from a throat-strangling envy of the rich people who flock to his touristy seaside town of Narragansett every summer. His mistress calls it “class-rage.” Money, or the lack of it, makes Dick an ornery man. Most of the time he is able to control his disdain for the wealthy nonsense, but every once in awhile his temper will flare. It is difficult for him, as a year-rounder, to make a back-breaking living as a commercial fisherman while watching his neighbors folic in the house his family used to own. With a wife and two sons to support Dick knows he needs to captain his own vessel to bring in a better profit. He can’t make ends meet crewing for someone else. His saving grace is a 50-foot boat he calls Spartina he has been slowly building in the back yard. Now all he needs is an engine. Desperation to put Spartina in the water leads Dick down a dangerous path of foolish choices and regrettable actions. Drugs, adultery, theft. Nothing is off limits when a man is driven.
Confessional: I couldn’t decide if I liked the main character.

Author fact: Casey has a very intimate knowledge of boats, down to the very last detail. He is from Worcester, just down the road from me.

Book trivia: the history of Rhode Island is threaded through Spartina. It was unexpected to get a little lesson on the Narragansett tribe and their intended use of wampum.

Playlist: “Autumn Leaves,” “Yellow Rose of Texas,” “Maybe, Baby,” “Stars and Stripes Forever,” Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison.

Nancy said: Pearl said “You could do far worse than spend a reading life perusing books by Iowa’s distinguished MFA alumni…” (Book Lust p 107).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust twice. First in the chapter called “Ecofiction” (p 78) and again in “Growing Writers” (p 107). Even though Pearl included this in a chapter called “Ecofiction” it didn’t rule the plot.