Color

Finlay, Victoria. Color: a Natural History of the Palette. Ballantine Books, 2002.

Reason read: April is fashion month and whenever I think of fashion, I think of color.

To research the history of color is brilliant like a box of sixty-four. Who, for example, has thought about from where ochre originated? According to Finlay, ochre is the first color(s) of paint. I did not know that and to be totally honest, nor have I ever thought about ochre in this way. [My only thoughts in ochre were to be confused about what shade of yellow, red, or brown it is supposed to be.] Did you ever wonder what the HB on a pencil meant? Hardness and blackness. How about the origin of the phrase, “cut through all this red tape”? Who knew? Apparently, Finlay. That’s who. She took the time to travel the globe looking for answers about color: Australia for ochre, England for black and brown, China for white, Chile for red, Italy for orange, India for yellow,…I wanted to make a map of all her travels. On the heels of reading Travels in a Thin Country I couldn’t stop comparing Sara Wheeler’s adventure to that of Victoria Finlay.
There is a fair amount of humor in Color. To see what I mean, find the section where Finlay describes the interesting practice of boiling cow urine after the bovine have been fed a steady diet of mango leaves for two weeks straight.

As another aside, I got a little excited when I saw Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s name in the index. My Natalie connection is that she put Lawrence’s daughter’s poem, “If No One Every Marries Me” to music. I need to thank Finlay for bringing the artist Joseph Mallord William Turner to my attention. ‘Waves Breaking Against Wind’ is a painting I identify with in a strong way.

Author fact: At the time of publication, Finlay was living in Hong Kong (according to the dust jacket).

Book trivia: Color includes a section of photographs…in color! I guess black and white wouldn’t necessarily work for a book about color…

Playlist: Bach

Nancy said: Pearl said she would buy Color for a textile designer.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “A Holiday Shopping List” (p 116). In the index Color is incorrectly listed on page 1216.


Housewrights

Corriveau, Art. Housewrights. Penguin Books, 2002.

Reason read: April has a week dedicated to librarians.

The early 1900s. It is an age when nature is stepping aside for the steamroller that is science. A father with twins so identical even he can’t tell them apart shows up in eight-year-old Lily’s Vermont yard, looking for carpentry work. Unabashed and unconventional, Lily takes to the boys and they can’t help falling in love with her as only little boys can when a girl can climb a tree faster or shows no fear diving into a pond from a great height.
Fast forward ten years and one of the twins, Oren, comes calling. He has never forgotten Lily. Eighteen years old, Lily now works as a librarian in the same town she never left. Did she stay where she was just so Oren or Ian could find her? Oren came back first. They marry, build a house and settle into the community as husband and wife. Soon after brother Ian arrives in town after surviving the horrors of the First Great War. He is a shell-shocked sleepwalking mess and Lily feels the old pull towards him; with Oren’s blessing she welcomes Ian into their home. The three set up house as if time has stood still and they are once again children, locked in the play of deep friendship. Only now with adult alcohol to go with the games and music and loud laughter. It isn’t long before their unconventional arrangement becomes the talk of the town.
More than a story about conformity and appearances, Housewrights is a lesson in identity and acceptance. It is about changing with the times and making peace with the past.

Quote to quote, “She also knew not to trust everything men said when they were drinking” (p 4). Good girl. I should note, there were many, many more passages I could quote. This just set up a premonition perfectly.

Book trivia: Housewrights has a pretty accurate account of how maple syrup is produced and how a house brought from a catalog is put together.

Author fact: Housewrights is Art Corriveau’s first novel. It should be made into a movie.

Playlist: “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” “The Wedding March,” and “The Gentlemen’s Waltz.”

Nancy said: Pearl did not say much about Housewrights.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Libraries and Librarians” (p 138).


Edsel

Estleman, Loren D. Edsel: a Novel of Detroit. The Mysterious Press, 1995.

Reason read: to continue the series started in January in honor of Michigan becoming a state. I also needed a one-word title for the Portland Public Library’s Reading Challenge.

For Edsel: a Novel of Detroit, we jump back to the 1950s. Former reporter Constance “Connie” Minor has been hired to come up with an advertising pitch to sell the Ford “e-car” Edsel. At the same time, he is hired to be a spy for the United Auto Workers labor union. As he bounces between loyalties and the law, Connie also juggles dating two women. Per the usual Estlemen plot, Connie burrows underground into the world of mobsters, corrupt politicians, and ex-cops with hidden agendas. Once again, it is the dialogue that keeps Edsel hopping.
Like the other Estleman novels, Edsel is a parade of cars: Skyliner, Studebaker (my dad had one of those), Lincoln Capri, Ford Fairlane, Hudson Hornet, Bel-Air, Mercury Montclair, deVille, corsair, Citation, and Roadmaster.
This is going to sound strange, but I loved the last few pages of Edsel. If this had been a movie, the end roll of credits would have been a political and economic snapshot of how 1950s fared. Like the voiceover of the crime noir detective wrapping up the solving of a crime.
What was that movie when someone soandso goes back in time and laughingly asks her family, “you bought an Edsel?” knowing that in the future, this model was doomed to fail in a big way. I think it was “Peggy Sue Got Married” but I can’t remember the name of the actress who goes back in time.

Quote I liked, Israel Zed’s advice, “Time isn’t as important as attitude” (p 85). Two more lines to like, “I had to maneuver my lips out of the way of my words” (p 72), “Young women who are out to seduce fossils don’t begin by telling them they’re two years younger than their fathers” (p 147), and “Never plead problems of health to the man who holds your professional future in the file drawer of his desk” (p 278).

Author fact: Estleman was nominated for a Pulitzer.

Playlist: Little Richard, “After the Ball,” “The Black Bottom,” “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window,” “Shake, Rattle, and Roll,” “Sixteen Tons,” Teresa Brewer, Xavier Cugat, Frank Sinatra, Al Jolson, Rosemary Clooney’s “Come On-a My House,” Elvis’s “Hond Dog,” Jerry Lee Lewis, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Billy Eckstine, Frankie Lane’s “Mule Train,” and Bill Haley and the Comets.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Big Country Country: the Literary Midwest (Michigan)” (p 26).


Face the Fire

Roberts, Nora. Face the Fire. Jove Books, 2002.

Reason read: to finished the trilogy started in February in honor of Valentine’s Day and love and romance and cheesy chick lit.

To recap the trilogy: Nell came to Three Sisters Island, off the coast of Massachusetts, looking to escape an abusive husband (a la Sleeping with the Enemy). She found a sisterhood of witches with Ripley and Mia and true love with Ripley’s brother. In the second installment, Ripley, the witch with the biggest chip on her shoulder needed to chill out. She found true love with a witch researcher. In Face the Fire, it is Mia’s turn to find her true love. The only problem is, her true love is someone who walked away from her many years ago, leaving deep scars and a toughened exterior. While I appreciated the fact Mia’s story ran through the earlier installments, I was disappointment when she decided she could have a sexual relationship with long lost love, Sam. Like the other plots in the Three Sisters Island trilogy, there is an element of evil that must be vanquished before anyone can live happily ever after.

Book trivia: Face the Fire is the last book in the trilogy.

Playlist: “Sea of Love” and Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.”

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say much about Face the Fire except it was out of chronological order in Book Lust.

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


King of the Corner

Estleman, Loren D. King of the Corner. Bantam, 1992.

Reason read: to finished the series started in January in honor of Michigan becoming a state.

King of the Corner opens with Kevin “Doc” Miller being released from prison. Doc did seven years time for hosting a party where an underage girl died of a cocaine overdose. He didn’t bring the drugs and he certainly didn’t bring the girl, but he went down for it all nonetheless. It’s the 1990s and Big Auto has been swallowed up by Big Crime. After seven years behind bars, Doc needs a job but he still loves baseball. Somehow he finds himself taking over someone else’s job as a cabbie. Because of his height and overall size one fare. Maynard Ance, convinces him to assist with a bond pick up. And that’s where the trouble begins. Like being sucked down a drain, Doc finds himself pulled into bad company. His situation goes from bad to worse when he ends up on the scene of a murder, s direct violation of his parole. To paint a further picture, if you are familiar with other other “Detroit” books in Estleman’s series, you’ll know why the fact Patsy Orr’s accountant now works for Maynard Ance is trouble. Old ghosts never die.
Pay close attention to what characters say because dialogue drives the action.

Line I liked, “He wondered if the daily routine would just fade away on its own or if he would have to change it himself.” I was reminded of Red from “Shawshank Redemption” and he was not able to take a piss without first asking permission.

Book trivia: King of the Corner was the third and final installment in the Detroit series. Interestingly enough, I am reading a total of seven for the Challenge.

Play list: “Okie From Muskogee,” “White Christmas,” Waylon Jennings, M.C. Hammer, Otis Redding, Nat King Cole, Billie Holliday, Michael Jackson, Lou Rawls, Stevie Wonder, Jimi Hendrix, Martha and the Vandellas, Elvis, and Anita Baker’s “Watch Your Step,”

Nancy said: Pearl called the whole series of “Detroit” novels “sweeping” and “gritty.”

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Big Ten Country: The Literary Midwest (Michigan)” (p 26).


Motown

Estleman, Loren D. Motown. Bantam Books, 1991.

Reason read: to continue the Detroit series started in honor of January being the month Michigan became a state.

It’s 1966, thirty years later and a whole generation after Whiskey River. The times, they certainly are different. The Supreme Court now demands a search warrant to tap phones. Seatbelts are a thing. Dean Martin has a talk show. The American Steelhaulers Association is a very powerful labor union. What will they think of next? In the midst of all this, protagonist and ex-cop Rick Amery is down on his luck. Only 37 years old and he doesn’t have a stable place to live or a decent paying job. So when Big Auto comes calling to hire him to go undercover, it’s an easy decision. Plus, he loves, loves, loves cars. He loves cars. Did I mention he loves cars? His job is to spy on a safety organization. A guy named Porter is a big advocate of anything that will make the consumer stay a little safer in an automobile. He’s out to expose Big Auto’s shortcuts because they have started cutting back on safety to beef up horsepower, like making smaller brake drums to make room for a bigger engine.
Old characters from Whiskey River like Joey Machine are legends in Motown. Constantine “Connie” Minor is back as a lawn mower salesman having quit the journalism business twenty years before.
Like Whiskey River Estleman pays tribute to the auto and clothing fashions of the time: Sting Ray Corvettes, Volvo, Ramblers, Studebakers, Chevy Impala, Mercedes, VW Beetle, Corvair, Cobra, Camaro Z28, Excaliburs, denim, gaberdine, wool, mother of pearl, suede, silk, loafers, leather, wingtips and wide lapels.
True to the times, Estleman does not shy away from racism and often using language that wouldn’t be politically correct for this day and age: “Nigger killings off Twelfth Street aren’t exactly Commissioner’s priority” (p 48). Hard words to read, but a reality of the 1960s.

As an aside, I agree with Mike Gallente about boxed pasta when he explains, “Directions say 8-10 minutes but that’s at least 2 minutes too long” (p 209).

Lines I liked, “Napoleon was on Elba for only ten months, and he didn’t have TWA” (p 141), “Why don’t you just drop your pants and use a ruler?” (So Enid says on page 152). “Ouzo was slightly less treacherous than the Viet Cong” (p 231), and “He drove down the straight, smooth shotgun barrel of his thoughts, not paying attention to anything outside, trusting his hands on the wheel and his feet on the pedals to guide him scratchless through the physical world” (p 269).

Author fact: Estleman also wrote a mystery series starring a character called Amos Walker.

Book trivia: Motown takes place thirty years after Whiskey River.

Play list: “Blowin’ in the Wind,””House of the Rising Sun,” “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Summer in the City,” “The Quest,” Smokey Robinson, Sammy Davis Jr., Stevie Wonder, Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence,” Cab Calloway, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Dean Martin, Eartha Kitt, Elvis, Little Richard, Petula Clark, Nancy Sinatra’s “these Boots Were Made for Walking,” the Supremes’s “Itching My Heart,”, Otis Redding, the Miracles, Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman,” Beach Boys’s “Little Deuce Coupe,” “Freedom Road,” Lou Rawls, Little Anthony, “Praise Ye Lord,” the Temptations,” Barry McGuire, Pat Boone, and Frank Sinatra.

Nancy said: Pearl said to read Jitterbug after Whiskey River. I’m reading Motown because it was written directly after Whiskey River. Not sure if I’m right or not.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Big Ten Country: the Literary Midwest (Michigan)” (p 26).


Whiskey River

Estleman, Loren D. Whiskey River: a Novel of Detroit. New York: Open Road Integrated Media, 2015.
Estleman, Loren D. Whiskey River: a Novel of Detroit. New York: Bantam books, 1990.

Reason read: Michigan became a state in January.

The first novel in Estleman’s Detroit series, Whiskey River, takes the reader into Detroit’s dark and dangerous Prohibition era where true events and real people are cooked together with vivid imagination, humor and grit to serve up a tasty story. Torture, murder, prostitution, political scandals, suicides, grand jury trials, corruption, and Detroit’s seedy underground keep the reader enthralled.
Constance “Connie” Minor goes from having bylines in the local newspaper to his own column in the tabloids. The price for this upgrade? Riding shotgun with warring mob bosses, Jack Dance and Joey Machine. He gets a ringside seat to kidnappings, smuggling, and up-close and personal torture and murder. Why is so liked by these mobsters is beyond me.
Hattie was one of my favorite characters. By day her establishment was a funeral home but by night the lights were turned low for more “lively” entertainment. She was a dame who took no gruff from anyone.
As an aside, I found the inequality and racism a little difficult to stomach, especially since nothing has changed since the 1930s: “Is he white?…If he weren’t they wouldn’t have bothered to call it in” (p 57).
I most enjoyed Whiskey River as a period piece. the 1930s comes alive with the vernacular, fashion, and transportation of the day: spats, derbies, top coats, silks, wingtips, stoles, fedoras, stockings, LaSalles, Auburns, Packards, Model As, Vikings, Buicks, and blind pigs.

Quotes I liked, “Remember, it took a fresh kid to tell the emperor his ass was hanging out” (p 30), “Someday maybe I’ll learn not to write the whole story until I’ve met its subject” (p 37), “Something had gone wrong with the natural order when an Oklahoma train robber was shot to death at the wheel of an automobile in downtown Detroit” (p 67), “Courage is the first casualty of experience” (p 92), and lastly, “A dream come true: I had a gangster for a critic” (p 199).

Author fact: Estleman won the Private Eye Writers of America Shamus award three times.

Book trivia: Whiskey River is the first in seven novels about Detroit. I am reading all of them for the Challenge.

Playlist: Bessie Smith, “Potato Head Blues,” Duke Ellington, Paul Whiteman, King Oliver, “Royal Garden Blue,” “What a Friend I Have in Jesus,” Praise God, For Whom All Blessings Flow,” and Glen Gray’s “Casa Loma Stomp.”

Nancy said: Pearl explains there are seven “Detroit” novels and calls them sweeping and gritty (More Book Lust p 26).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Big Ten Country: The Literary Midwest (Michigan)” (p 25).


Changed Man

Prose, Francine. A Changed Man. New York: Harper Collins,

Reason read: Happy New Year! January is traditionally the month to turn over a new leaf. Read in honor of resolutions. I also read this for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge (category: a book that gives you hope for the future).

Vincent Nolan wants to be a changed man. Once a Neo-Nazi and a self-described “punk storm-trooper rapist,” Vincent is looking for redemption in the eyes of Meyer Maslow, a Holocaust survivor. I didn’t quite believe the situation. Why wouldn’t Maslow be more suspicious of Nolan? How does he trust this guy wants to change just…like…that? Is he really A Changed Man? How has Vincent become a moral hero overnight? On the flip side, I am also suspicious that no one at Brotherhood Watch would be worried for Vincent’s safety…if he really is a changed man. He just left a very dangerous, cult-like organization. Think gangs. Wouldn’t ARM want retaliation? Wouldn’t Vincent’s cousin be looking for him after Vincent stole his truck, prescription meds, and Soldier of Fortune magazine, and then left his little hate club?
The only parts I found believable were the times when someone was jealous of someone else (and this happens a lot): Brotherhood Watch donation coordinator, Bonny, was jealous of her ex-husband’s new wife (very appropriate) and she was jealous of her ex-husband’s importance in society (As a cardiologist, he saves lives. What does she do?); Maslow was jealous of Elie Wiesel’s “Holocaust” fame, then he was jealous of Vincent’s “changed man” fame; Vincent was jealous of the Iranian prisoner’s story getting more attention than his own transformation and he was also jealous of Timothy McVeigh’s limelight. Yes, that Timothy McVeigh. Threaded through A Changed Man is the real-life drama of the Oklahoma City bombing and the subsequent execution of McVeigh. It allows Prose to show both sides of a tragedy. The Jews were ecstatic when McVeigh was put to death while the neo-Nazis mourned and honored their hero. As an aside, Prose made Vincent look a lot like McVeigh for added creepville.
Overall, A Changed Man might be heavy on subject (Holocaust survivor, neo-Nazis, etc.) but super light on drama complete with a Hallmark-like ending.

Quotes to quote, “Becoming a white supremist for the free lunch seems even sleazier than joining because you believe that the white race is an endangered species, or because you like wearing camouflaged gear and the boots” (p 18), “Vincent’s not in the mood to explain about Raymond wanting him dead” (p 182).

Playlist: Mick Jagger, Billy Joel, Otis Redding, Tina Turner, Ricky Martin, Marc Antony, Tito Puente, Iron Fust, Al Green’s “Love and Happiness,” Beethoven, Stravinsky, Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue,” “Pomp and Circumstance,” and “The Wedding March.”

Nancy said: Pearl said A Changed Man was in the stack of books by her side of the bed.

BookLust Twist: from the introduction of More Book Lust (p x).


Lost in Place

Salzman, Mark. Lost in Place: Growing Up Absurd in Suburbia. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

Reason read: China is a big influence on Salzman. There is a spring festival that takes place in China at the end of January/beginning of February. For the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge I needed a book for the category “An older book by a favorite author.”

Salzman can take an ordinary upbringing and turn it into a tragic comedy full of deep sighs and tears of laughter. What were American boys in the mid 70s obsessing over? Sex, drugs and rock and roll…and Bruce Lee. Picture Mark Salzman at thirteen listening to Ozzy Osbourne and practicing flying kicks just like his idol. Only add a bald wig, cello lessons, and an obsession with all things Chinese while living in the suburbs of Connecticut, and you have the makings of an incredibly sweet and hilarious memoir. This should have been a movie.

Line that made me laugh, “Man, you know the world is a confusing place when you’re a boy and your dad tries to get you to switch from self-defense to ballet” (p 112).
Most profound line, “We all crave certainty, we dream of serenity, and we want to discover our true identities” (p 266).

Author fact: Salzman is one of my favorite authors. I have already read Iron and Silk and The Soloist. I have two others on my Challenge list.

Playlist: Aerosmith, Aldo Parisot, Bach, the Beatles’s “Michelle,” Black Sabbath, Boy George, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Chick Corea, Chopin, Duane Allman, Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Hendrix, Jan Hammer, Jaco Pastorius, kiss, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Ozzy Osbourne, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon,” Ravi Menuhin, Stanley Clark, Ted Nugent, Talking Heads, Ten Years, Van Halen, The Who, Weather Report, Yo Yo Ma, “The Candy Man,” and “Dreamweaver,”

Nancy said: Pearl called Lost in Place funny and self-deprecating and totally irresistible.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter “Mark Salzman: Too Good To Miss” (p 194).


Tangerine

Bloor, Edward. Tangerine. New York: Scholastic Signature, 1997.

Reason read: I needed a one-word title for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.

Tangerine, Florida seems like a strange and dangerous place to live. Constant lightning strikes in the afternoons, continuous underground muck fires, and resulting sinkholes plague the community. That’s not all. Prized koi fish are mysteriously disappearing from the community pond. Swarms of mosquitos are so thick, trucks with choking pesticides spray daily as if on war patrol. Multiple houses need fumigating because of termites. Then the robberies begin…and the vandalism and graffiti.
Paul Fisher and his family have recently moved to this unstable area and all middle-schooler Paul wants to do is make the soccer team. Despite having a disability (he is legally blind), he is an excellent goalie. He just needs a chance. Since all eyes (pun totally intended) are on Paul’s older brother, Eric, the high school football star destined for greatness, that chance seems slim. Everyone adores Eric so why does Paul fear his brother so much?
Tangerine stuns the reader with harsh realities usually missing from young adult novels. Publishers Weekly said “it breaks the mold” and I agree one hundred percent. Confessional: some scenes were so harsh I found myself catching my breath.

Line that gave me pause, “Eric was as phony as he needed to be” (p 57). Little did I know how telling that line would be.

Author fact: Bloor has written a bunch of books but I am only reading Tangerine for the Challenge.

Book trivia: Tangerine is Bloor’s first novel. My edition has an introduction from Danny DeVito.

Playlist: “Try to Remember.”

Nancy said: the only thing Pearl said specifically about Tangerine is that it is more appropriate for boys than girls.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Teens” (p 23).


Monkeys

Minot, Susan. Monkeys. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 2000.

Reason read: Even though Monkeys isn’t about animals, I am reading it in honor of the television series “All Creatures Great and Small” first airing in the month of January. In addition, I needed a one-word title for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.

Monkeys was the term of endearment Rosie Vincent called her large brood of seven children. Cheerful and sometimes silly, Rosie was the glue that held this chaotic family together. When she is tragically killed the children are left to deal with their grief. Sometimes they are forced to parent an alcoholic father who can’t focus on his responsibilities (but manages to remarry in a year). As a stand alone novel of vignettes Monkeys may seem disjointed and fuzzy; not very well thought out, but when you consider Monkeys as a transparent autobiography, it makes way more sense. Minot herself has six siblings. Her mother was killed at a train crossing, exactly like Rosie Vincent. The first story (told in first person) could very well be Minot herself reliving her childhood memories. The rest of the stories are in third person and might be true events about her siblings.
As an aside, it would be interesting to read Monkeys along with with the works of her sister (The Tiny One) and brother (The Blue Bowl) for comparison.

One quote to quote, “One evening, Mum asked her to promise she wouldn’t commit suicide until she was eighteen” (p 81).

Author fact: At last check, Minot lived in Maine.

Book trivia: Monkeys is Minot’s first fiction.

Playlist, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” and “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.”

Nancy said: Pearl said that Monkeys was one perspective on growing up in a large, dysfunctional New England Catholic family.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “All in the Family: Writer Dynasties” (p 5).


Shtetl

Hoffman, Eva. Shtetl: the Life and Death of a Small Town and the World of Polish Jews. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

Reason read: in honor of Hannukah.

Inspired by a documentary Hoffman saw on Frontline, this is the biography of Bransk, a Polish town that no longer exists thanks to the thoroughness of the Nazis under Russian rule. One of the most difficult segments to read was the recounting of young Bransk boys conscripted into the Russian army. They were religiously converted away from their birthright and upon returning home, shunned by their own people.
As an aside, I am afraid of cult figures and the power they can wield over seemingly intelligent people. I was surprised to learn of a man in the 1750s by the name of Jakub Frank who claimed he was the Messiah. He wanted to rule all of Poland and had a strong sexual appetite for young girls and orgies.

Quotes to quote, “I believe that if we are to understand what happened in Poland during the war, we must begin by acknowledging, from within each memory, the terrible complexity of everyone’s circumstances and behavior” (p 6).

Author fact: Hoffman grew up in Cracow, Poland.

Book trivia: Shtetl was written after Hoffman saw a documentary by the same name of Frontline in 1996.

Nancy said: Pearl admires Hoffman’s writing and reads everything she publishes, but for the Challenge I am only reading Shtetl. Pearl would have bought Shtetl for someone exploring Jewish roots.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Polish Up Your Polish” (p 181) and from More Book Lust in the chapter called “A Holiday Shopping List” (p 114).


The Sound and the Fury

Faulkner, William. Novels 1926 – 1929: The Sound and the Fury. The Library of America, 2006.

Reason read: December is Southern Fiction month. Luckily, this is the last Faulkner I have to read.

I wish I could say I adored The Sound and the Fury. I feel like I have an obligation to at least like Faulkner’s writing style because it is so close to another author I actually love, James Joyce. Faulkner appears to be heavily influenced by the Irish author.
Even though Sound got easier and easier to read as I went along, I couldn’t like the characters. Getting into the minds of the three Compson brothers didn’t help. Benjamin, Quentin, and Jason’s narratives all blur together and become one complicated and tangled stream of consciousness. I learned early on that the trick to Faulkner is to remember chronology is of little importance, the duplicity of names can be confusing, and for The Sound and the Fury, you must be comfortable with themes of mental illness, incest, and suicide. Virginity is a commodity in southern fiction. The moral of the story is every tree has a few secret nuts.

Lines I found myself liking: “She approved of Gerald associating with me because I at least revealed a blundering sense of noblesse oblige by getting myself born below the Mason and Dixon, and a few others whose Geography met the requirements (minimum)” (p 947), and “Honeysuckle is the saddest odor of all, I think” (p 1007). Not a line, but I liked the random illustrated eye.
As an aside, I would like to see the Sound and the Fury movie. I think I might understand the plot a little better if I did.

Author fact: Faulkner skipped the second grade and his surname used to be spelled without the ‘u.’

Book trivia: the appendix includes 46 years of Compson history, some helpful and some not so much.

Nancy said: Pearl called all of Faulkner’s novels “enduring.” Just how they endure, I don’t know.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Southern Fried Fiction” (p 205).


The Mother Tongue

Bryson, Bill. The Mother Tongue: English & How It Got That Way. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1990.

Reason read: December is Bill Bryson’s birth month. Read in his honor.

The language that we speak is akin to breathing. What I mean to say is you really don’t thinking about breathing in or breathing out. You just do it. Same with talking. Most of us don’t think often or long enough about the words we use. Even less of us think about where those words came from in the first place. Language is a powerful tool, used for good, evil or even just plain fun. Think about how lawyers can twist an innocent person’s words into an admission of guilt. Crossword puzzles are counting on you to think of the wrong use or meaning of a word when you are trying to fill in the squares. Jokes are often based on word play: either funny or groan-worthy puns. Words matter. When words are strung together to form sentences, they mean even more. Bryson’s Mother Tongue is nothing short of a run-on sentence about language facts. Page after page after page of witticisms about words. An onslaught of linguistic trivia. That is not to say I did not enjoy Mother Tongue. I found it fascinating to learn that Robert Lowth simply didn’t care for the pairing of “you” and “was” and demanded it be changed to “you were.” Explanation for some grammatical rules “they are because they are” is the equivalent of a parent saying “because I said so.” I enjoyed learning that the word asparagus comes from the combined words sparrow and grass and that al fresco in Italian does not mean being outside, but rather, in prison. It reminded me of runner and anthropologist Dr. Tommy ‘Rivs’ Puzey. He taught me that you have to be careful how you pronounce Machu Picchu. The wrong emphasis could mean something completely different. Just make sure you pronounce the second ‘c’ in Picchu. Wink, wink. Probably my most favorite discovery was the word aposiopesis: the breaking off of thought. I suffer from that all the time!

Quotes to quote, “More than 300 million people in the world speak English and the rest, it sometimes seems, try to” (p 11). I would be included in that rest. another one, “When you look into the background of these “rules” there is often little basis for them” (p 141). Amen to that.

Author fact: At the time of publication Bryson was an American living it England.

Book trivia: Mother Tongue was written in 1990. What can we say about the English speaking world thirty-plus years later?

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Mother Tongue. She didn’t even give it an asterisk to indicate a must read.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Bill Bryson: Too Good To Miss” (p 36).


Pastries: A Novel of Desserts and Discoveries

Kirchner, Bharti. Pastries: a Novel of Desserts and Discoveries.

Reason read: December is traditionally when a whole lot of baking goes on.

Meet Sunya. She owns a small bakery in Seattle, Washington where the star attraction is her one-of-a-kind decadent chocolate creation, Sunya Cake. Only these days head baker Sunya has lost her mojo for any kind of sweet creation. Every recipe she attempts ends in distraction and disaster. For a baker not being able to bake, that must be like a writer suffering from writer’s block. However, Sunya has more to worry about than her own failing skills. She is on the rebound from a bad break-up (the lowest of lows: a friend stole her man); her business is about to go head-to-head with a bigger, glitzier bakery (think of a chain similar to Cheesecake Factory), there is a nasty critic stoking the fires of competition, Sunya’s employees are unreliable and fickle; her shop’s lease looks like it won’t be renewed due to financial instability. To top it all off as if that wasn’t enough, Sunya suffers from latent abandonment issues and an ever-growing identity crisis. The mystery of her father’s sudden departure from the family haunts Sunya despite the fact she was only two days old at the time. Even though she is of Indian descent, Sunya best identifies with Japanese culture, but who is she really underneath it all?
Through all this, Sunya’s character is honest and believable. She isn’t above ratting out her competition to the food inspector (pun totally intended). She harbors enormous jealousy for the woman who stole her boyfriend (as mentioned before, someone she used to call her friend). She definitely has relationship issues thanks to the mystery of her father leaving her. Even sexy movie director Andrew has trouble convincing Sunya he is interested in more than just her chocolate cake.

Author fact: Kirchner also wrote The Bold Vegetarian: 150 Inspired International Recipes which was on my Challenge list even though I didn’t need to read it.

Book trivia: this should be a movie.

Playlist: Bach, Brahms, Pearl Jam, and Andres Segovia.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Pastries.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Fiction for Foodies” (p 88). See why The Bold Vegetarian shouldn’t have been on my Challenge list?