Stet: a Memoir

Athill, Diana. Stet: a Memoir. New York: Grove Press, 2000.

Reason read: Read in honor of Athill’s birth month being in December.

In the editing world, stet means “let it stand” when a copy-editor wants to rescue a deletion.
To explain this book, here are Athill’s own words, “All this book is, is the story of one old ex-editor who imagines that she will feel a little less dead if a few people read it” (p 5).
The first part of Stet reads like any other job related memoir, “here is how I came into my occupation and kept it for nearly fifty years.” Athill is careful to keep her private life out of the equation until she gets to part two. Here she dishes about her favorite authors who became quasi friends in the process. The story of Jean Rhys sadden me the most.
Confessional – the didactic history of the Caribbean Dominica bored me just a little.

Quotes I liked, “Even now I would rather turn and walk away than risk my voice going shrill and my face going red as I slither into sickening humiliation of undercutting my own justified anger by my own idiotic ineptitude” (p 58) and  “Jean has been right – she was the only person who could make sense of the amazing muddle seething in those bags” (p 165).

Author fact: a Google search of Diana Athill’s name told me Athill will be 101 years old at her next birthday (on the 21st).

Book trivia: Sadly, there are no photographs in Stet.

Nancy said: the only thing Pearl said was Stet is an “interesting book about [Athill’s] career in the publishing industry” (p 163).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Me, Me, Me: Autobiographies and Memoirs” (p 163).


Scales of Gold

Dunnett, Dorothy. Scales of Gold. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

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

It is now the fifteenth century. We are in the Age of Discovery. Nicholas vander Poele is in need of restoring order and fortune to his banking business. He and former slave, Loppe travel to Africa in search of gold. Also traveling along with him is Gelis van Borselen. If you remember the name from Race of the Scorpions,  she is on board, secretly seeking revenge. (As an aside, there is always a beautiful woman who has a love-hate relationship with Nicholas and seeking some kind of revenge.) Gelis van Borselen’s sister, Katelina, was killed in The Race of the Scorpions. It was mentioned earlier that whenever Nicholas is ill and feverish he spills secrets. This time, struggling with a swamp-induced illness Nicholas tells Gelis he is the father of her sister’s child. This changes the course of their relationship. Of course it does.

Underlying all the adventure and violence is Dunnett’s sly humor. She gives this comedy to Scales of Gold in the form of witty repartee. When Nicholas asks Gregorio if anyone has tried to kill him lately, Gregorio replies, “I suffer from overwork and neglect but apart from that, no” (p 8).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Digging Up the Past Through Fiction” (p 79).


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).


David and the Phoenix

Ormondroyd, Edward. David and the Phoenix. Floyd, VA: SMK Books, 2014.
Ormondroyd, Edward. David and the Phoenix. Read by Edward Ormondroyd. Syracuse, NY: Full Cast Audio, 2002.

Reason read: November is Fantasy Month. This was a quick one to finish the month.

This is a really fun book. David has moved into a new house and is enthralled with the mountain in his backyard. Eager to climb it, he discovers this isn’t any ordinary mountain. For living on one of its ledges hides a curious talking bird who calls himself Phoenix. The Phoenix is a delightful character who promises David all sorts of adventures: some good, some bad. Insert some other mythical creatures and an evil scientist hell bent on catching the Phoenix for the purpose of nasty experiments and David and the Phoenix is fantastic story for young and old. Word of advice, listen to this on audio!

Author fact: Ormondroyd, in addition to being a writer, was also a librarian.

Book trivia: First the obvious, David and the Phoenix is Ormondroyd’s best known book. Second, the illustrations in David and the Phoenix by Joan Raysor are fantastic.

Nancy said: Pearl read David and the Phoenix in 1957 when it was first published. She doesn’t consider it “high fantasy” but rather a “charming adventure” for children (More Book Lust p 84).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Fantasy for Young and Old” (p 83).


Pinballs

Byars, Betsy, The Pinballs. New York: HarperTrophy, 1977.

Reason read: November is National Adoption Month and even though The Pinballs is about fostering, the spirit of taking care of children is what it is important.

Even though this was written with children in mind, I found myself getting emotional reading this story about three children in foster care. One child had been raised by elderly twins and doesn’t even know his real birth date or age. The second child had both of his legs broken when his dad in a drunken rage “accidentally” ran over them. The third child, the one with the most personality, was abandoned by her parents and comes across as very jaded about the whole system. She is the one who came up with the nickname “pinballs” because they were bounced around the system exactly like pinballs, with no control over their destinies. It takes some time and some hard lessons learned before each child realizes they are not pinballs.

Author fact: Byars won both the Newbery Award (1971) and the National Book Award (1981).

Book trivia: Pinballs was made into an ABC-TV Afterschool Special back when those things were The Thing.

Nancy said: Girls would enjoy The Pinballs better than the boys.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Boys and Girls” (p 21).


Expecting Adam

Beck, Martha. Expecting Adam: a True Story of Birth, Rebirth and Everyday Magic. Ready by Joyce Bean. Tantor Media Inc., 2012.

Reason read: my mom’s birthday falls in the month of November. Read in her honor.

I love it when overly intellectual people have to rely on unscientific phenomenons like faith and hope and magic. I think being able to let go of factual reasoning and open our minds to blind trust stretches our narrow minded boundaries a little wider. Beck speaks to having a premonition before her son, Adam, was born. There had been almost mystic signs he was not going to be an ordinary child. Throughout Beck’s pregnancy inexplicable events pushed her to believe in decidedly unscientific miracles. The problem is both Beck and her husband, John, were obsessed with facts. Overly driven to be successful (two Harvard degrees each), they couldn’t wrap their brains around giving birth to a Down syndrome baby. Expecting Adam is the story of letting go to perfection; the releasing of ambitions; the saying goodbye to lofty goals…and saying hello to an angel.

As an aside, Beck made some references that I was unfamiliar with, enough so that I needed to look them up and keep track:

  • Deng Xiaping
  • Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm

 

Lines I liked, “It works for me to think that I will be lumped together with the right-to-lifers, not to mention every New Age crystal kisser who ever claimed to see an angel in the clouds over Sedona” (p 8), “If we saw people as they really are, the beauty would overwhelm us” (p 308), and “Not I think that the vast majority of us “normal” people spend our lives trashing our treasures and treasuring our trash” (p 317).

By the way, I thought that the word retarded wasn’t political correct and should be avoided at all cost. Or, is it one of those words you can use on yourself and it’s okay? All I know is it was jarring every time I saw it in print.

Book trivia: There is a lovely picture of Martha and Adam on the back inside flap of Expecting Adam. It made me smile.

Author fact: Beck is a Harvard grad, receiving multiple degrees in sociology (B.A., M.A. and a Ph.D). I guess this is what we would call this a serial student.

Nancy said: Nancy said Expecting Adam “is a unique mixture of sophisticated humor, satire, self-deprecation, and spirituality.” She also called it, “hysterically funny” (More Book Lust, p 172).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Nagging Mothers, Crying Children” (p 172).


Caliph’s House

Shah, Tahir. The Caliph’s House: a Year in Casablanca. New York: Bantam Dell Books, 2006.

Reason read: Morocco’s independence was obtained in November.

Everyone has a story of an event in their lives; how they met their sparkling spouse, how they came into their fascinating occupation, how they started an odd hobby for which they are extremely passionate. The most interesting stories are the ones that are life changing; an abrupt 180 degree turn from where they used to be. A hobby turning into a business so they can quit their dead end job, for example. Tahir Shah has such a story in The Caliph’s House. The London based travel writer was looking to move to Morocco. Tired of grey weather and bland food, he wanted to get back to the culture of his ancestry. After many false starts a classmate of his mother’s contacted him out of the blue in 2004 with an offer he couldn’t refuse: the sale of Dar Khalifa, the once home of a Caliph, a spiritual leader of Casablanca. Even though this is a story about living through a house renovation it goes beyond tiles and plumbing. Shah explores what it means to buy and restore a house in a post 911 society. Morocco struggles to be a paradise of tolerance. At the same time, Shah becomes intimately and intensely aware of “how things get done” when he hires a man of ill repute to be his right hand man. Encounters with thieves, possible murderers, even the mob are the norm. But, it is the exorcism that readers all wait for with breath held. Who in their right mind would slaughter a goat in every room of a mansion-sized abode?

Most startling takeaway – even Casablanca has a mafia.

Quote to quote, “There was a sadness in the still of the dusk” (p 1). Yes! I have always felt the melancholy amid the gloaming, especially on Monhegan. I can’t explain it.
Some funny quotes, “We were both blinkered by our upbringings” (p 105), “The nervous man pulled the lid off one of the toilets and fishes out half a dozen samples of cedar” (p 294), “But it was the first time I had hired a troupe of exorcists, and I didn’t know the protocol” (p 314), and “I like my meat to be anonymous, severed from its connection to life” (p 318). Don’t we all?

Author fact: Shah has a few videos on YouTube, including one of a tour of Dar Khalifa that is pretty cool. He talks about having to placate the Jinns and how he ended up having a grand exorcism with twenty-four exorcists.

Book trivia: the illustrations by Laura Hartman Maestro are wonderful, but what is most impressive is the assumed photograph of Dar Khalifa.

Nancy said: Pearl just describes a tiny bit of the plot.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “So We/I Bought or Built a House In…” (p 210).