Conversations Across America

Loya, Kari. Conversations Across America: a Father and Son, Alzheimer’s, and 300 Conversations Along the TransAmerican Bike Trail that Capture the Soul of America. XK Productions, 2022.

Reason read: as a member of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing, I occasionally review books. This was a December pick that I am just getting around to reading now.

Father and son embark on a 73 day, 4,200 mile adventure from Virginia to Oregon,
My favorite part in the entire book was when Kari’s life rolled by as if it were a memory from a movie.
From the moment I opened Conversations on my laptop I regretted not having the coffee table version Kari mentioned. Some of the landscape photography is absolutely gorgeous. However, here is what you need to know two-thirds of the book are photographs of ordinary people with their accompanying “stories.” Some of the stories are interesting or even heartfelt, but a great deal of them are exclamations about Merv’s age or the number of miles they are trying to bike. Wow is a common refrain.
My only detractor? The sheer volume of stories or conversations overshadowed the beauty of the father/son narrative. I tracked how many pages were dedicated to Loya’s personal journey compared to the pages of “conversations” and the ratio was 1:3. Additionally, the same “conversation” is in the narrative so I felt like I was reading the passages twice.
My favorite section of the book was the end where Loya included a partial list of the gear they carried, their itinerary of the different stages, and the half-time report about dogs and meals.

As an aside, were there really 2,000 filing cabinets? The bit about the trampoline was funny. I also felt Loya was a little judgmental about AT hikers. That’s acceptable if he has hiked the Appalachian Trail in its entity himself and can make a comparison based on his experiences.

Author fact: Kari was trying to sell his home in New Jersey while trying to bike across America with his father.

Book trivia: there is a ton of beautiful photography in Conversations.

Playlist: “New York” by Frank Sinatra, Chariots of Fire, Beach Boys, Def Leppard, Bela Fleck, Tony Trischka, Quincy Jones, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Vivaldi, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Jack Johnson (Hawaiian music).

Chair Yoga

Chapshaw. Chair Yoga: Gently Build Strength, Flexibility, Energy, and Mental Fitness in Just Two Weeks to Improve Your Quality of Life and Grow Old Gracefully. Chapshaw Publications, 2022.

Reason read: as a member of LibraryThing I am a member of the Early Review Program and I occasionally review books (mostly nonfiction). This is one such book.

Before I started reading Chair Yoga my mind was not really open to all of the different possibilities a chair could bring. I could only think of seating poses like neck rolls, ear to shoulder moves, and spinal twists. Starting with examples of elders who have used chairs in their yoga practice helped set the tone of the rest of the book. Further validation came in the form of illustrating more complicated poses like warriors one and two. Advice concerning different areas of ailment like osteoporosis. sciatica, and hypertension took Chair Yoga from a basic starter yoga book to a more solid reference.
Offhand comments: Can I just say this book had me at David Bowie? To open Chair Yoga with a quote from this musical legend was brilliant.
Maybe I am too biased on the subject of yoga, but I am not sure how anyone can think of yoga at any age as “too woo-woo”…whatever that means.
I am enamored with the idea of eight limbs of yoga. I think of an octopus every time.
It is a shame to say you don’t have to read chapter one and you need only to skim chapter two. Are you saying the words therein are pointless and not worth the reader’s time? Like any good syllabus, Chair Yoga maps out learning objectives for each chapter. There is even homework for assessment. While Chapter nine offers the two week plan read everything leading up to it. It is worth your while.

Book trivia: Illustrations to go with the text are helpful.

Raised Bed and Container Gardening

Andrews, Emma. Raised Bed and Container Gardening: 9 Practical Steps For Turning Your Backyard or Balcony into Your First Successful Vegetable Garden. SNK, 2022.

Reason read: As a member of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing, I review books from time to time.

Confessional: I read Raised Bed and Container Gardening on a desktop using the Google doc Andrews supplied. In this format it was challenging to read. The spacing issues, oddly misplaced page numbers and mispelled words were a distraction from the content. Example: Questionstohelpyouplan all as one word took an extra second to decipher, not something I was planning to encounter.
Raised Bed and Container Gardening is a great starter book for those wanting to explore growing gardens in tight spaces. She has a boatload of information, both unique and common sense. It is nearing winter so I will table any report on how well her advice and instruction worked until next year. 🙂
As an aside, in this age of acknowledging diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging it was nice to see Andrews consideration for people with mobility issues.

Second confessional. It is coming on winter, as the song says. I can’t apply any advice or instruction from Andrews until next spring.

Black Country Music

Royster, Francesca T. Black Country Music: Listening for Revolutions. University of Texas, Austin, 2022.

Reason read: I am a member of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing. Every once in a while I review something.
On the surface, Royster will give you musical biographies of Tina Turner, Darius Rucker, Charlie Pride, Beyonce, Valarie June, Rhiannon Giddens, and Lil Nas X. Delving deeper, Royster takes you behind the curtain and into the dark heart of country music. A place where some songs sung by white people are most likely referring to slavery, the KKK, or white supremacy. The Black country community is singing about much the same things, but from a different and more significant reality. Royster’s research in Black Country Music is thorough. She makes mention of more musicians than I have ever heard of. A near complete list is at the end of this review. The analysis of mistrel traditions was fascinating. Royster’s self-prescribed goal of writing Black Country Music was to capture the heart and emotion of Black country music and, in my opinion, she succeeded in finding that revolution for which she was listening.
In all honesty, Royster gave me more questions to ponder. As a musician, does the sound you chose to create identify you as a person? Do you have to “be” country music or heavy metal in order to perform that particular sound or can you go where the money is? Can you “be” pop if that is what sells? What about if you “cross over” or collaborate with someone outside your prescribed genre? Are you defined by the instruments you use or the tenor of your voice?

As an aside, I questioned the meaning behind the kiss between Wllie Nelson and Charlie Pride. I have never thought about Willie or Charlie in a bromance kind of way, so it was an interesting slant to question the nature of a gesture fraught with potential intimacy. Another aside: I watched the video for “Wagon Wheel” and I got a completely different take than Royster. While, yes, there is one part where Darius is kept from entering a bar, but I felt it was because he wasn’t paying the cover and the bouncer had no idea Darious was the entertainment for the night. That happens all the time. Royster also makes frequent mention of the women Darius’s videos being pale skinned. Surely she has seen his wife? The women in both “Wagon Wheel” and “If I Told You” videos look a lot like his partner, Beth.

Confessional: I have always believed the power of music can make statements, move emotions, and mobilize a revolution. I am a lyrics junkie. I love picking apart what people say in music. I am not a fan of “ooh baby, baby” or a great deal of repetition. How many times can you hear “little pink houses” in one four minute song? So, when Royston talked about Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” my eyes were opened wide to a different side of the story. Much like how for years have tried to figure out what Phil Collins was trying to say in “In the Air Tonight”, I couldn’t wrap my brain around Lynrd Skynyrd. To be fair, their music is not high on my list of pleasurable listening so it’s not like I listened closely or sought them out to solve the mystery.
Another confessional: I had never heard of the subgenre of Atlanta-based trap drums.

Playlist: Aaron Neville, Alice Randall, Amythyst Kiah’s “Black Myself” and “I’ll Fly Away”, , Al Green’s “For the Good times”, Al Jolson, Allison Russell’s “You Are Not Alone”, Anderson.Paak’s “Lockdown”, Ariana Grande, Beatles’s “Get Back”, Bela Fleck, Bessie Smith, Beyonce’s “Daddy Lessons” “Sorry”, “Hold Up” “Black Parade”, and “All Night”, Billy Ocean’s “Suddenly”, Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart”, Billy Whitlock, Birds of Chicago, Blanco Brown’s “The Git Up”, Bob Dylan, Bobby Womack, Boyz to Men, Brad Paisley, Breland’s “My Trusk”, , Brittany Howard, “Brown Girl in the Ring”, “Brown Sugar”, BT’s “RM”, Cameo’s “Word Up”, and “She’s Strange”, Cardi B., Carla Thomas’s “Call Me a Fool”, Carolina Chocolate Drops’s “Leaving Eden”, “One Dollar Bill”, and “Texas Easy Street”, the Carter Family, Charlie Daniels Band, Charley Pride, Chase Rise, the Chicks’s “Long Time Gone” and “Goodbye Earl”, Childish Gambino, Chris Stapleton, Clint Black, “Country Honk”, Commodores, Cowboy Troy, “Cripple Creek”. Con Funk Shun, Crystal Gayle, Cupcake, Da Butt, Daddy Yankee, Dan Emmett, Darious Rucker’s “It Won’t Be Like This for Long”, “Wagon Wheel”, “Homegrown Honey”, “Southern Style”, “If I Told You”, “Going to Hell”, “Drinkin’ and Dialin'”, “Beer and Sunshine”, “Why Things Happen”, “History in the Making”, “Alright”, and “Don’t Think I Don’t Know About It”, DeFord Bailey’s “Fox Chase”, DeLila Black, Diana Ross, Diplo, Dolly Parton, Dom Flemons, Don Gibson’s “I Can’t Stop Loving You”, Drake, Eagles’s “Desperado”, Earth, Wind and Fire, “Electric Slide”, Elizabeth Cotten, Elvie Thomas, Elvis Costello, Elvis Presley, Emmett Miller, Etta Baker’s “Railroad Bill”, and “Carolina Breakdown”, Fiddlin’ John Carson, Francesco Turrisi, Freddy Fender’s “Before the Next Teardrop Falls”, Garth Brooks’s “Rodeo”, Geeshie Wiley, “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It”, George Jones, George Wallace, Glen Campbell, Grace Jones, Gus Cannon, Hank Snow, Hank Williams’s “Lovesick Blues”, Harry Belafonte, Hootie and the Blowfish’s “Let Her Cry”, “I Just Want to Be With You”, and “Hold My Hand”, Horace Weston, Howlin’ Wolf, Ike Turner, Isley Brothers’s “Shout”, Jake Blount, James Brown, James Taylor, Jay-Z, Jeannie C. Riley’s “Harper Valley P.T.A.”, Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Jett Holden, Jim Reeve’s “This World Is Not My Home (I’m Just Passing Through)”, Jimmie Allen, Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing”, Jimmie Rogers, Joe Thompson, Johnny Cash, Jump Jim Crow, Justin Bieber, Kara Kater, Kamara Thomas’s “My Kentucky”, Kansas, Kanye West’s “Spaceship”, “Keeping it on the One”, Keith Richards, Kendrick Lemar, Kenny Rogers, Khalid’s “Talk”, Kid Rock, Kris Kristopherson, the Kronos Quartet, “Lady Marmalade”, Laura Love, Leadbelly, Lewis Capaldi’s “Somebody You Loved”, Leyla Hathaway, Leyla McCalla’s “I Knew I Could Fly”, , Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road”, “Monero (Call Me By Your Name)”, and “That’s What I Want”, Lil Wayne, Lilli Lewis, “The Loco Motion”, “Lil’ Liza Jane”, Linda Martell’s “Color Him Father” and “Bad Case of the Blues”, Lionel Richie’s “Stuck on You”, “Little Sally Walker”, Lizzo’s “Juice”, Lynette Williams, Lynryd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama”, Ma Rainey, Mac Davis, Madonna, Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear’s “Down in Mississippi”, “Mama’s Been Cryin’ Long”, Mariah Carey, Marty Robbins, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?”, Mason Ramsey, Master Juba, Mavis Staples, Megan Thee Stallion, Mel Tillis, Merle Haggard, “Merry Mack”, Merry Clayton, Mick Jagger, Mickey Guyton, Mills Brother’s “If I Don’t Care”, Miko Marks’s “Freeway Bound”, Miley Cyrus’s “Slide Away”, Millie Jackson, “Moon Meets the Sun”, Muddy Waters, Mumford and Sons, Nas, Neil Young’s “Southern Man”, Nelly, Nina Simone, Nine Inch Nails, Oakridge Boys’s “Elvira”, Odetta, Our Native Daughters, Parliment Funkadelic’s “Mothership Connect”, Patsy Cline, Patti Labelle, P.J. Morse’s “Bayou Song”, Phil Spector’s “River Deep – Mountain high”, Polly Johnson’s “The Three Maids”, Porter Wagoner, Prince, Queen Esther, Ray Charles, Radney Baker, Reverend Gary Davis, Rhiannon Giddens’s “Mama’s Crying Long”, Rick James, Rico Nasty, Rissi Palmer’s “Country Girl”, Rita Coolidge, RMR, Robert Johnson, “Rock Lobster”, Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May”, Rolling Stones’s “Honky Tonk Women”, Ronnie Van Zant, Roy Clark, Roy Orbison, Shawn Mendez and Camilla Cabello’s “Senorita”, “Shortnin’ Bread”, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Solange Knowles’s “Almeda” and “Binz”, Star De Azlan, Stevie Wonder, Styx, Sule Greg Wilson, Swamp Dogg, Taj Mahal’s “Colored Aristocracy”, Tammy Wynett, T.I., Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limits”, “Help Me Make It Through the Night”, “A Fool in Love”, “Private Dancer”, “Proud Mary”, and “Funky Worm”, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue”, Tom T. Hall, Toots Thieleman, Toshi Reagan, Tracy Chapman, Valerie June’s “Shotgun”, “The No Draws Blues”. “Workin’ Woman Blues”, “Tennessee Time”, “Astral Weeks”, “Somebody to Love”, and “Organic Moonshine Riots Music”, Vince Staples, Virginia Minstrels, “Watch Me [Whip/Nae Nae]”, Waylon Jennings, Whitney Houston’s “You Give Good Love” Willie Nelson, Woody Guthrie, Yo Yo Ma, Yola, “You are My Sunshine”, “You Don’t Know Me”, Young Thug, and “Your Cheating Heart”.

Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

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

Reason read: It’s Sherlock.

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

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

As an aside, what constitutes a fabulous forehead?

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

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

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

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

Halfway to Schist

Bridgford, Peter. Halfway to Schist. Black Rose Writing, 2022.

Reason read: As a reviewer for the Early Review Program for LibraryThing I occassionally get to review books from people I like.

Using an escape to a remote Point au Baril fishing lodge as a means for recovery for a recent widower and his only teenage daughter, Bridgford sets the stage for exploration into how a mother’s suicide, an uprooted existence, and various difficult relationships impact a young girl’s life. Opal Ethelred “Red” Rogers has her whole life shaken time and time again. I agree with another reviewer that some “adult” reactions to Red’s experiences are unexpected, but the narrative rings true even if it is a little repetitious. The best part of Bridgford’s writing is the descriptive imagery. The use of scientific geologic terminology juxtaposed with gorgeous narrative was stunning. The deliberate placement of words was like carefully laying beautiful stones for an ornate patio. The end result is not only solid as rock, but beautiful as well.Told from the perspective teenage girl. Like how A Great and Terrible Beauty was about a girl who lost her mother at an any early, so does the first person protagonist, Red in Halfway to Schist; only, their widowed fathers take different paths when trying to decide how to care for their coming of age daughters. One father sends his daughter off to boarding school while Halfway to Schist’s father takes Red to a remote island to rebuild a derelict camp. Like all girls in a similar situation, Red dreams of her mother and tries to make the best of her post-mom life. That is where the similarities end. The father in A Great and Terrible Beauty disconnects from his daughter and the story turns into a fantasy. In Halfway to Schist Red and her father are emotionally synched and grounded in a very real universe. Father and daughter sigh at the same time, they hold their collective breath at the same time. Despite this closeness, the summer of 1955 brings an end to innocence and childhood. Serious events occur in Red’s young teenage life; too serious for someone so young. As an adult looking back, she is able to tell the story of a near rape, racial prejudice, and a murder with near unemotional stoicism.

As an aside, Bridgford was so specific about a pair of shoes I had to look them up: Converse Blue Lapel Bosey boots. They are actually pretty cool.

Over 80

Reynolds, Marilyn. Over 80: Reflections on Aging. New Winds Publishing, 2022.

Reason read: I am a member of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing. This is a selection for the month of September.

There are a myriad of reasons why I want to hang out with Marilyn Reynolds. First and foremost, she is funny AF. Secondly, she boycotts In-N-Out Burger because they donate to the Republican party. Thirdly, she is a realist. If you want proof, just read her chapter on her perspective of firsts and lasts (first couch she bought with a husband, last sex she’ll ever have…). And. And! And, if that wasn’t enough, she swears like a sailor. I laughed out loud when she considered taking up vaping.
I can only imagine that Over 80 is a lot like Over 70 in that it features essays about getting older and I have to wonder if that is true, could you string them together to make a disjointed autobiography of sorts? Reynolds is a realist I can appreciate. She became a writer (and a funny one at that) when she discovered there weren’t enough “real” books for students. She wanted to satisfy a need to see honest and relatable situations for the students in her classroom. It reminds me of my father saying “if you don’t like the way something is done, do it yourself!” My only complaint, if I were to dredge one up, is that Over 80 ends abruptly. Because I was reading the e-version I didn’t have a sense of when the story was coming to a close.

Marilyn’s playlist: “Sweet Leilani”, “Three Little Fishes”, “Jeepers Creepers”, “Jingle Bells”, “Happy Birthday, “Hokey Pokey”, Aloha Oe”, “Ode to Joy”, “The Little White Duck”, “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?”, “Mad Dogs and Englishmen”, “I’ll Fly Away”, “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood”, “Roll Me Over in the Clover”, “Spirit of Life”, “So Long It’s Been Good to Know You”, Bing Crosby’s “Blue Hawaii”, Burl Ives, Beethoven, Chopin, Arthur Rubenstein, Harry Owens, and Hilo Hattie.

Prince of Tides

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bird Artist

Norman, Howard. The Bird Artist. Picador, 1994.

Reason read: August is fly like a bird month… or someone told me.

From the very first page of The Bird Artist, Howard Norman wants to draw you into the story by having his main character, Fabian Vas, nonchalantly admit that he murdered lighthouse keeper Botho August. The hook is why. Why did seemingly quiet and charming Vas kill August? Why does he admit to it so readily and so casually? Norman will drop other mysteries along the way to keep the reader strung along. Like, why is it risky to write about Fabian’s aunt? Fabian lives in Witless Bay, Newfoundland. Ir all begins when Fabian befriends town troublemaker Margaret. As a thirteen year old she accidentally killed a man. Soon their relationship blossoms into the “with benefits” type despite his arranged marriage to a distant cousin. Maybe it is a cultural thing, but the curious thing about Fabian is that nothing seems to really faze him. His apprenticeship with bird artist Isaac Sprague is shortlived when Sprague disappears in the spring of 1911. Fabian blames himself for being too much a critic of his mentor’s work. When he is moments away from marrying a complete stranger and being arrested for murder almost at the same time, Fabian shows little emotion. His emotion amounts to getting a little nervous when law enforcement shows up. For all of Fabian’s calm, Margaret is his exact opposite. She was my favorite character. Motherless and meandering, Margaret sets fire to life’s challenges. You end up rooting for their dysfunctional relationship no matter what the cost.

As an aside, how can one person consume 20-30 cups of coffee? Is it normal for a father to talk to his son about sex with his wife?

The other characters:

  • Dalton Gillette: Margaret hit him with her bicycle and he fell to his death. Mitchell Kelb investigated the case.
  • Romeo Gillette: widower; son is Dalton; hosted the Canadian Thanksgiving; recovering from a heart attack; owns a store; town gossip; acts as messenger for the characters under house arrest; bought the murder weapon from Mitchell Kelb.
  • Lambert Charibon: best friend of fathers; has a trout camp; doesn’t dream; supports Fabian’s artistic talents.
  • Cora Holly: Fabian is engaged to her despite being related (she is a distant cousin).
  • Aleric Vas: Fabian’s mother; has a sister named Madeleine; is four years younger than her husband; doesn’t like Margaret; is having an affair with the lighthouse keeper; while under house arrest she convinces Kelb to take her rowing; she broke Orkney’s heart.
  • Orkney Vas: Fabian’s father; hunts birds for a living; is instrumental in Fabian’s murder trial; saddest character in the book.
  • Isaac Sprague: birt artist; mysteriously disappeared in 1910; he was Fabian’s teacher by mail.
  • Madeleine: Fabian’s aunt.
  • Botho August: the murder victim; a man over 6′ tall; slim with blue-gray eyes; good at his job as keeper of the light; he listens to gramaphone records; paid for Margaret’s stockings; keeps to himself.
  • Reverend Sillet: 55 years old; hires Fabian to paint a mural.
  • Margaret Handler: 13 years old at the beginning of the story; dad bought her a bicycle; trades sexual favors with Fabian; four years older than Fabian; lives with her father, Enoch; mother died when she was seven; part Beothuk Indian; drinks a great deal of alcohol and can handle a gun. She was my favorite character.
  • Enoch Handler: carpenter and boat builder; hunter and pilots boats; despises priviledge; of average height, solid build with black hair; has a brother named Sebastian; daughter is Margaret; owns and runs the mailboat; takes Fabian to be married to Cora in Halifax.
  • Mitchell Kelb: constable; short man but in physically good shape; wears glasses; arrested Fabian on his wedding day; appointed representative magistrate at the trial.
  • Boas LaCotte: owns the sawmill; nephew is Giles.
  • Helen Twombly: owns the cold storage shack; is 80 years old in 1911; she is a widower; drowned; had an affair; Fabian paints her as a mermaid on his mural.
  • Uncle Sebastian (Bassie): Orkney’s brother; he was a career bank robber; broke Orkney’s jaw as a kid; Fabian hasn’t seen him since he was seven years old; taller than Orkney.
  • Paulette Bath: town librarian; she is a spirited woman in her late 50s or early 60s; she died when Fabian was 17 years old.
  • Giles LaCotte: owns an apple orchard and sawmill with uncle Boas; present at the trial.
  • Bridget Spivey: waitress at Spivey’s restaurant; short and lithe; in her 50s.
  • Lemuel: cook at Spivey’s; 6’2″ with a pudgy face, blue eyes and brown hair; slovenly with bold humor.
  • Odeon Sloo: new lightkeeper after Botho is murdered.
  • Kira Sloo: new lightkeepers wife.
  • Millie Sloo: new lightkeeper’s daughter.
  • Mami Corbett: makes a fruit cake for the characters under house arrest.
  • Llewellyn Boxer: deputy.
  • Hagerforse: owns the guest house where Fabian and Cora are to be married; in her late 50s.
  • Bevel Cabot: present at the trial
  • Miriam Auster: present at the trial
  • Ruth Henley: present at the trial
  • Olive Perrault: present at the trial
  • Elmer Wyatt: present at the trial
  • Peter Kieley: present at the trial
  • Patrick Flood: present at the trial; spoke at Botho’s funeral;
  • Seamus Doyle: present at the trial
  • John Rut: present at the trial
  • Averell Gray: justice of the peace
  • Alex Quorian: photographer for the wedding
  • Peter Kieley: alerted authorities to the murder of Botho
  • Darwin McKinney: dug Botho’s grave
  • Mekeel Dollard: takes notes at the trial; might be the only one in town to own a photo album (and not Alex Quorian?).
  • Arvin Flint – skipper of the doubting Thomas; former constable
  • Andrew Kieley – child in the church
  • Lucas Wyatt – child in the church
  • Sophie Aster – child in the church
  • Carson Synge – child in the church
  • Emma Shore – child in the church
  • Petrus Dollard – child in the church
  • Sally Barrens – child in the church
  • Marni Corbett – child in the church
  • Arden Corbette – child in the church
  • Philomene Slater – child in the church
  • Chester Parmalee – child in the church

As an aside, I found it shocking that they ate puffins considering my only history with the bird is the conservation effort and subsequent tourist opportunity to see them nest.

Lines I really liked, “The eeriest thing about fate, it seems to me, is how you try to deny it even when it’s teaching you to kiss” (p 11) and “Nowadays, people have to travel to get important memories” (p 35).

Author fact: you would never know Howard Norman was born in Toledo, Ohio.

Book trivia: Bird Artist is the first in a trilogy. This is the only book I am reading for the Challenge.

Nancy said: Pearl said The Bird Artist is on her bookshelf and that she couldn’t imagine traveling to Newfoundland without reading it first. Of the trilogy, Pearl said The Bird Artist was the best. Finally, she included it in her list of books “not necessarily instructive on What Mother Ought Not to Do” (Book Lust p 160).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Newfoundland” (p 153). Bird Artist can also be found in abunch of place in Book Lust. First, in the chapter called “Canadian Fiction” (p 51), then in the chapter called “Mothers and Sons” (p 161), and in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade (1990s)” (p 179).

Time Traveling to 1982: Reliving a Very Special Year

Hayward, Duncan. L. Time Traveling to 1982: Reliving a Very Special Year. Independent Publisher, 2022.

Reason read: I was 13 in the summer of 1982. I experienced my first true love that year. It was my last full year at home before I went to boarding school. I chose to review this book for the Early Review program because in my mind, 1982 was indeed a special year.

Confessional: I was looking forward to reading Time Traveling to 1982 because there are times I wish I could time travel back to the year of my first romance, my last year living at home, my first year of being a teenager. I can remember nearly everything about that year: the politics, the fashion, the food, the music (especially the music), and the sports. The only elements of entertainment I wasn’t “up” on were movies and television because I grew up without either.
Time Traveling was a disappointment. I was hoping for a thorough “reliving” of 1982. That would include fashion trends (hello neon), food (diet coke and onion soup mix, anyone?), sports of both genders (Steffi Graff!), along with the arts: books, music, theater, movies, dance. Beyond being more inclusive, I wished Time Traveling included more personal anecdotes. Why was 1982 a special year to Hayward? Beyond writing this for a friend turning forty, what does the author hold dear about 1982? I just had a thought. Was Hayward so selective because everything mentioned in Time Traveling was important to this friend and to hell with the rest of it?
What I did appreciate was the photography and the attempt at being international. I say attempt because, again, the thoroughness was just not there. Why include certain countries and exclude others?
Did this satisfy my desire to return to 1982? Partly. I had a good laugh remembering Ozzy’s antics with a bat and cried when reminded of James Brady getting shot in the head during the assassination attempt on President Regan (a detail not mentioned in Hayward’s recap of 1982). I was only thirteen but both of those events had a lasting impact on me. I felt sorry for the bat and the brain damaged Brady.

Introduction to the Whole Food Plant Based Lifestyle to Restore Your Health

Rieder, Stefan. Introduction to the Whole Food Plant Based Lifestyle to Restore Your Health: How 5 Healthy Habits Can Transform Your Life, Regain Your Mind and Reward You With Youthful Longevity. Digital File, 2022.

Reason read: I am a member of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing. This is an early spring review.

Confessional: I usually like to test out a diet before writing a review. Since this is a lifestyle change, you would have to wait for a long time before I was able to say if the book did anything it promised.

Right off the bat, I have comments about the title. First, what a mouthful, especially with the even longer subtitle! Second, I’d like to think Rieder was not only thinking pie in the sky results (the reward of “youthful longevity”), but also tongue-in-cheek humor (“regain your mind”, implying you lost it some time ago).
A few negatives: reading this on a phone was note enjoyable; the announcements of a free gift more than once was a little gimmicky; I wished that there were recipes included in the sample diet menu; some portions of the book were geared towards men; most of the information was what I would consider common sense.
Now for the positives: even though reading the whole book on a phone was not particularly fun, I appreciated the shopping lists being at my fingertips as I don’t go anywhere without my phone. The list made going to the grocery store very convenient. No excuses! The e-gift ads were easy to scroll past. The list of resources gave other places for recipes and more information. Authors should write what they know. Rieder is male, so it makes sense he would offer more advice to his gender. Previously I said most of the information is what I would consider common sense. Not all. I did learn a few things. Probably my best compliment for Introduction to the Whole Food Plant Based Lifestyle to Restore Your Health is how much I appreciated Rieder’s attitude. He is clearly very passionate about eating healthy, his enthusiasm for helping others was inspiring, and his personal story was touching. I know I will turn this book into a reference I will refer to from time to time.

Author fact: Rieder wrote a guidebook for couples seeking adventure.

Book trivia: the e-version of this book is a little hard to read. I would have much rather reviewed a print version so I could take notes and bookmark pages.

Angry Wind

Tayler, Jeffrey. Angry Wind: Through Muslim Black Africa by Truck, Bus, Boat, and Camel. Houghton Mifflin Co., 2005.

Reason read: so this is a stretch, but there is a sand castle building competition during the month of June somewhere in the world. I can’t remember why I know that. Sand is needed to build a castle and there is a lot of sand in Angry Wind.

I am always reading about the journeys of foreigners deliberately visiting war zones because, as they say, they’ve “always wanted to visit the area”. Never mind that the country in question is under rebel attack or that the natives hate “you people”. With the help of drivers, translators, and fixers, these fearless authors describe how they reluctantly hand over bribes along with precious passports, visas, and other important documents as if they trained a lifetime for such a vulnerable event. I am always reading from the perspective of the cavalier authors who have to wait for permissions to be granted, roadblocks and barriers to be cleared, bribes to be bestowed upon the greedy; all to be allowed safe passage. These people who somehow just know things will work out in their favor. I am never on the other side where the viewpoint is of the bandit, the enemy, or the political bigwig with all the power and hatred to let a traveler pass. However, I thoroughly Tayler’s description of getting past these same people. Some of the episodes are funny. As an aside, I loved the white-out people. Dab, dab, dab.
Tayler has a keen eye for society, no matter how archaic. The tradition of slavery: the Bellas being captive but not. Female circumcision as a tradition of misconception that cannot be logically argued away. The varying cultures make everyone suspicious of one another. I was relived when Tayler recognized he couldn’t change these cultures, but he argued against them just the same.
Confessional: an army of people helped Tayler cross five countries. I was pleased when he recognized all the people who had helped him as kind and generous.

Book travesty – someone decided to mark up a library copy of Angry Wind. I get the impression this person didn’t like Tayler’s opinion of Bush, especially when describing how the President came into power by force and manipulation. The notations are almost like a one-sided conversation, daring Tayler to say more. He or she actually calls Tayler a nitwit at one point! The more the writing went on, the more taunting the scribbler became.

Lines I liked, “My barren eschatological speculations left me with no hope of…” and “But the desert is really about….”. Oops. I don’t have permission to quote these remarkable lines. I take them back.

Author fact: Tayler also wrote Facing the Congo, River of No Reprieve, Glory in a Camel’s Eye, and Murderers in Mausoleums. All of these books are on my Challenge list. And! And. And, I just have to say, when I first saw Tayler’s author photo I thought I was looking at Simon Cowell.

Book trivia: I was hoping for some photographs….

Playlist: Stevei Wonder, “Silent night”, “O Come All Ye Faithful”, “Feelings”, and “Hey, Jude”.

Nancy said: Pearl said Angry Wind is “a thoughtful description” and Tayler writing is powerful, fluent, and meaningful.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “The Sahara: Sand Between Your Toes” (p 192). As an aside, I don’t always make mention of this, but Angry Wind is the first book I am reading for this chapter.

Rabbi’s Cat

Sfar, Joann. The Rabbi’s Cat. Pantheon Book, 2005.

Rabbi’s Cat is a clever way of introducing Talmudic teaching…sort of like sneaking spinach into a burger to make it “healthier” (yeah, right). The philosophical arguments with a cat about God and love are pretty funny yet serious. To start from the beginning. A parrot annoyed a cat, so the cat ate the bird and gained the ability to speak and lie, not necessarily in that order. Even as a liar, the cat is a straight shooter, albeit a little sarcastic. The cat is also a true cat, randomly knocking over things, or walking on piano keys when you are trying to play, or sitting directly on the very book you are trying to read. But, remember, this cat can talk so it should be no surprise it is demanding a Bar Mitzvah. The rabbi needs to consult his rabbi on that one (although he doesn’t faze him to hear a cat speak). Thus begins the argument, what does it mean to have faith? Does what you practice define your level of spirituality? What about the differences between being a Jew or an Arab? I loved the argument between the cat and the donkey about the name ‘Sfar.’ Truly a clever book.

Great lines to quote, “He tells me that they don’t circumcise cats” (p 10), “You know, sometimes you kill just one person and it takes care of everything” (p 82), and “I love my master, too, it doesn’t mean I have to act like an electric fan” (p 128),

Author fact: Sfar won the Jury Prize for The Rabbi’s Cat.

Book trivia: The Rabbi’s Cat is a graphic novel and the illustrations express volumes (like being underwater and drowning to symbolize helplessness). Really cool designs.

Nancy said: Pearl recommended The Rabbi’s Cat “for a change of pace” (Book Lust To Go p 161).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “North African Notes: Algeria” (p 158).

The Van

Doyle, Roddy. The Van. Penguin, 1997.

Reason read: to finish the trilogy started in March in recognition of St. Patrick’s Day.

The Van picks up pretty much where The Snapper left off. Daughter Sharon is now a new mom with a toddler, Gina. Jimmy Rabbitte’s house is getting too small even though some of his children have moved out. A baby can do that. Unemployed and bored, Rabbitte babysits Gina until his best friend, Bimbo, loses his job. Suddenly as men of leisure they have all the time in the world to play endless games of pitch and putt, ogle teenage girls and roam the bars drinking and trying to pick up women (or as they say, “chasing women who had “fine sets of lungs” and “their arses fit nicely on the stool; there was noting flowing over the sides” p 266). It isn’t until Bimbo buys a van with the hopes of turning it into a burger food truck that the two men start to have a purpose for getting up in the morning. They have no idea what they are doing and in the end it nearly destroys their friendship. By turns funny and desperate, The Van was my least favorite of the series.

Favorite parts: Jimmy Sr.’s boredom takes him to new heights. I laughed when he tried to understand the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins…and when he gets a library card.

Author fact: I have one last Doyle book to read, A Star Called Henry.

Book trivia: The Van is the final installment in the Barrytown trilogy. The cover illustration is weird…until it isn’t. It is a weird perspective of Jimmy, Bimbo, and their van. The view is of the underside of the van as if you are looking up from underwater, but at a floating angle.

Playlist: Bob Geldof, “New York, New York”, Kylie Minogue, The Cure, “Mighty Quinn”, “Teddy Bears Picnic”, Megadeath, Anthrax, The The, UB40, “Nearer My God to Thee”, “Hippy Hippy Shake”, and Georgia Satellites.

Nancy said: Pearl called the whole Barrytown trilogy humorous.

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

Stress

Estleman, Loren D. Stress: a Novel of Detroit. Warner Books, 1996.

Reason read: to continue the series started in January when Michigan became a state.

There is always some kind of special assignment in an Estleman book. This time, it’s a cop going undercover in the STRESS (Stop The Robberies Enjoy Safe Streets) unit: a plain clothes undercover commando unit accused of using less than law abiding tactics to take crime off the streets. Charlie Battle, nephew to a pro wrestler from an earlier book, tries to make sense of the violence. I like the way characters reminisce about incidents and characters described in earlier books. Their memories tie past books together because the plots are not continuous. The real constant is the biography of the Motor City and the cars on its streets. You can also count on Estleman to make reference to real people and historical events (like Jane Alpert and the New York City bombings in 1969). Mix in gun dealers and a child abduction and you have a different story altogether.

As an aside, Estleman must have had fun with the fashions of the 1970sd with all of its corduroy, wide lapels, crushed velvet, and bell bottoms.

Quote to quote, “If being rich meant having to listen to live music all the time, Kubicek would just as soon take his $300 a week and an eight-track player” (p 3). Thanks, but no thanks!

Book trivia: Stress is the fifth book in the series.

Author fact: Estleman is an authority on American West history.

Playlist: Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower”, Tennessee Ernie Ford, “Sixteen Tons”, Stevie Wonder, James Brown’s “Mama Don’t Lie”, Aretha Franklin, the Temptations, “I Could Have Danced All Night”, “Thank you Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin”, and Elvis.

Nancy said: Pearl called the entire series sweeping and gritty.

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