I don’t have writer’s block. I have writer’s apathy. I have nothing to say. Here are the books already underway for November:
- The Sporting Club by Thomas McGuane – in honor of the Mackinac bridge being built in November of 1957.
- The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak – I needed an author with my same initials for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.
- Four Corners: a Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea by Kira Salak – in honor of November being a decent time to visit PNG…if you are into that sort of thing.
- Israel is Real: an Obsessive Quest to Understand the Jewish Nation and Its History by Rich Cohen – in recognition of Resolution 181.
- Silverland: a Winter Journey Beyond the Urals by Dervla Murphy – in honor of Murphy’s birth month.
- Master of Hestviken: the Snake Pit by Sigrid Undset – to continue the series started in October. I needed a translated book written by a woman. Voila!
- Echo Burning by Lee Child – to continue the series started in July in honor of New York becoming a state.
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Teaching Empathy: Strategies for Building Emotional Intelligence in Today’s Children by Suzanna Hershon, PhD.
- The Master of Hestviken: the Axe by Sigrid Undset.
- October Light by John Gardner.
- Jamesland by Michelle Huneven.
- The Chronicle of the Seven Sorrows by Patrick Chamoiseau.
- Isabel’s Bed by Elinor Lipman.
- Wyoming Summer by Mary O’Hara.
- Obsession with Butterflies by Sharman Apt Russell.
- Running Blind by Lee Child.
Early Review for LibraryThing
- Lou Reed: Notes From the Velvet Underground by Howard Sounes.
Undset, Sigrid. The Master of Hestviken: the Axe. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962.
Reason read: I needed something for the Portland Public Library 2019 Reading Challenge. The category is women in translation.
Considered to be the companion to Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter, The Master of Hestviken series tells the saga of Olav Audunsson in thirteenth century Norway. As a boy he was raised by a foster family. When you are first plunked down in the middle of the drama you meet Steinfinn, a young man who fell in love with a fair maiden named Ingebjorg. So far so good, except Ingebjorg was betrothed to someone named Mattias. Doesn’t matter. Steinfinn and Ingebjorg run away and live together as if they are man and wife. They soon have a family of three children, one of them being the beautiful Ingunn. In addition to their own children they foster a young lad by the aforementioned name of Olav Audunsson. Thus begins the romance of Ingunn and Olav. Both Olav and Ingunn’s fathers agreed the two would grow up to marry each other, but after Steinfinn passes the young couple are told it was only a game their fathers played and the betrothal is not real. Cue the violins, people. Olav commits murder with an axe named Kinfetch and that complicates things. He escapes punishment but in the meantime Ingunn is struck by some mysterious paralysis amid rumors of witchcraft. And the plot thickens. Especially when she becomes pregnant during Olav’s exile…
As an aside, I have to admit, thirteenth century drama is not my cup of tea. Luckily, The Master of Hestviken is chopped up into four books and each book is a little over 200 pages long.
Author fact: Undset was originally born in Denmark.
Book trivia: Master of Hestviken was originally published in one single volume and according to the inside flap, had been out of print in England until 1962.
Nancy said: The Axe is part of the series that Pearl considers Unset’s “other” masterpiece.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Norway: The Land of the Midnight Sun” (p 162).
Gardner, John. October Light. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976.
Reason read: Autumn in New England is pretty fantastic. October Light takes place (mostly) in Vermont.
When I first picked up October Light I thought it was going to be this old-timey story about two elderly siblings, living in seething resentment of one another in a farmhouse somewhere in Vermont. Admittedly, the book jacket didn’t give me much to go on.
So, the plot: James Page is angry at the world. So angry he can’t stand his sister Sally’s droning television and ends up silencing it with a shotgun blast. The shooting of the television sets in motion a series of events – James locks Sally in a room (but seemingly not her own room because she finds a trashy novel which doesn’t belong to her). She becomes absorbed in said trashy novel; literally can’t put it down and refuses to come out of the bedroom, even when her niece convinces James to free her. James doesn’t care either way. In truth, he is not without deep rooted grief, a grief that has hardened to him. One son committed suicide and another died in an accident. James’s sister, widowed and a polar opposite, does nothing to comfort him. The epic sibling battle lasts for the entire book and escalates to a catastrophic ending.
I have to admit, I didn’t enjoy the frame novel technique. Sally’s trashy novel seemed to be the story Gardner really wanted to write. There is no explanation of how this trashy novel came to be in her room until the end. In truth, the story came alive for me in the last fifty pages.
Confessional: the phrase “New England piss and vinegar” had me smiling. Yes, I know the type.
Line I liked, “It was a fact if life that if people knew what you were feeling they could work you around” (p 64).
Author fact: October Light uses the framed novel technique of a story within a story. Gardner does a great job with both voices.
Book trivia: October Light was illustrated by Elaine Raphael and Don Bolognese.
Nancy said: Pearl said October Light was another good novel set in New England. Really, I would beg to differ. Because this is a framed novel only a portion of it takes place in Vermont and even then the location is a rundown Vermont farmhouse. Not a lot of it takes place out and about in New England. Only at the end do you get a real sense of what it is like to live in New England…the covered bridges, mud season, endless waiting for spring…
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “New England Novels” (p 177).
Lipman, Elinor. Isabel’s Bed. New York: Washington Square Press, 1995.
Reason read: Lipman’s birth month is in October. Read in her honor.
Harriet Mahoney gave twelve years of her life to a man who just left her to marry a woman he’s only known for a few months. Adding insult to injury, he kicks Harriet out of the house she has shared with him as his common law wife for all those years. Dejected but determined to land on her feet, (without her parents’s help…she is over forty, after all!) Harriet takes a job in the seaside town of Truro, Cape Cod, to ghost write celebrity Isabel Krug’s tabloid story. Everyone knows Isabel was the femme fatale using a vibrator in a married man’s bed. Everyone knows the married guy’s wife stormed into the bedroom and shot him dead. Everyone knows because the trial was a sensation full of titillating details, but Isabel wants the world to know her side of the story (it’s even more sordid) and because she isn’t shy, she’s willing to tell all. Harriet is in for the ride of her life working with feisty Isabel…until the not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity widow comes knocking.
This is a fun read but a bit silly at times.
Line I really liked, “My taste buds strained in their direction” (p 276).
Author fact: Lipman is from Lowell, Massachusetts. Same as Hey Jack Kerouac.
Book trivia: So. This story is supposed to take place in Cape Cod. One character is supposed to have a wicked Boston accent. He does…for the most part. It comes and goes.
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Isabel’s Bed.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Elinor Lipman: Too Good to Miss” (p 146).
Turnbull, Peter. Long Day Monday. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992.
Reason read: October is Mystery Month.
An abandoned car. A dead woman buried in a field. A discarded child’s toy. A missing boy. Are these things connected or merely coincidences? Observations made in quick succession? Such is the mystery presented to the investigators of the renowned P Division in Glasgow, Scotland on a bright Thursday afternoon. First called to the scene of an abandoned vehicle, neatly parked by the side of a rural road, the plot thickens when the plates come back belonging to a stolen car. Upon further investigation of the area a body has been buried in a shallow grave. The young woman shows signs of starvation and previous restraint around her wrists and ankles. Is she a murder victim or a woman with an eating disorder who liked a little bondage with her sex life? How did she end up in the middle of nowhere buried under topsoil? What about the presence of a toy rabbit carelessly discarded nearby? Is it a coincidence that there is a ten year old boy missing? Are all of these clues connected? The police realize they will need to work through the weekend in order to make sense of it all. As a result, it’s going to be a long day Monday.
My favorite part was when the science of reconstructing a three dimensional face was employed. The technology was new at the time of Turnbull’s writing and it was considered cutting edge to use the details of sex, age, and ethnicity to rebuild someone’s likeness when the only physical evidence was the victim’s skull.
Author fact: Peter Turnbull worked as a steelworker and a crematorium assistant. I don’t know which is worse.
Book trivia: Long Day Monday is super short, under 200 pages.
Nancy said: Pearl called Long Day Monday “stark and dark” (p 121) and suggested it as a “taste of [Turnbull’s] brews” (p 121).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “I Love a Mystery” (p 121).
Russell, Sharman Apt. An Obsession with Butterflies: Our Long Love Affair with a Singular Insect. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing, 2003.
Reason read: there is a place in Western Massachusetts called Magic Wings. It opened in the month of October. Originally, this was the reason I chose to read Obsession in the month of October. Joyously, I have a new yet fleeting new reason. Monhegan has been inundated with monarch butterflies since September, resting before their journey to Mexico and beyond. We haven’t seen such a migration in years so it is nice to have them back.
This was a fun read. Right off the bat it was interesting to learn about string theory and the idea that there are ten dimensions, butterflies being one of them. But, Russell goes on from there. Recounting mythologies, symbolisms, scientific studies, pop cultures, history, evolution, obsessions, butterflies play an enormous role in our lives, sometimes in the center of it, sometimes on the periphery. Russell has a way with words that is pure magic.
And. And! And, who doesn’t love an author who can compare the antics of caterpillars to Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, with the line, “This is a sprint, the ultimate chase scene” (p 25). There is such a witty humor to Russell’s writing.
I loved this droll little line, “Birds don’t eat their own droppings” (p 21). Okay. Here is an example of Russell’s humor if butterflies posted personals, “Personal ad #24: M seeks F, no pets, no parasites, no kinky hobbies, must like kids and nectar” (p 85) and “Personal ad #189: M, forceful type, wants F any age, minor role-playing, must enjoy airplane rides” (p 88). Too funny.
As an aside, butterflies have long been thought to be the souls of children no longer with us. Indeed, my aunt got a tattoo of a butterfly on her forearm to mourn the loss of her only son.
Author fact: Russell taught writing at two different institutions at the time of publication.
Book trivia: Obsession with Butterflies was illustrated by Jennifer Clark.
Nancy said: Pearl said Obsession with Butterflies is “designed to introduce readers to the (brief) life and behavior of one of the most varied, fascinating, and graceful creatures in the world” (p 69). She goes on to say more but you’ll just have to read More Book Lust to be in the know!
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 500s” (p 69).