Always a Distant Anchorage

Roth, Hal. Always a Distant Anchorage. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1988.

Reason read: October is Library Friend month. I had to borrow this book from Byfield, Massachusetts; a town I have never heard of before.

Hal and Margaret Roth had an epic mission to sail around the world. Good thing they had the kind of relationship that could withstand being trapped together on a boat for nearly two years (46 months)! Their boat, Whisper, was a 10.7 meters long, black hulled fiberglass vessel that weighed 7.2 tons.
Their journey took them from the coast of Maine to Bermuda and the Virgin Islands, though the Panama Canal, across the South Pacific, winding through Tahiti and Fiji, crossing the Coral Sea and Australia, Bali, Africa, the Red Sea, the Mediterranean, and finally back through the Atlantic and the Caribbean, ending in Somes Sound, Maine. The amazing thing is, Roth did not come from a sailing background. Luckily, he was a gifted writer and this is his account of that epic journey (with excerpts from Margaret’s journal thrown in). Weather, fishing, the mechanics of boats and sailing, the culture and customs of each community and port, getting to know and establishing relationships with other sailors, even being shipwrecked on coral reef and observing drug runners. Everything Roth writes about is fascinating. He loves the word “squally.”

As an aside, Roth’s description of Greece makes me want to visit even more.

Quote to giggle over: from Margaret’s journal, “I don’t know why men have to swear when they fix things” (p 81).
Another quote, “I don’t mind the prayers and the ritual washing that used up my buckets of fresh water, but I wished the pilot had made some sign to me that he was giving up steering” (p 219). One last quote, “What was life anyway but a collection of new timbers, the seasoning and shaping into a useful hull, the long voyage, a gradual collapse, and the final rotting away (p 303)?

Author fact: Roth also wrote We Followed Odysseus which I will be reading a few years.

Book trivia: the hand drawn maps are fantastic, but the photographs are great too! I wish there had been more of the couple. On the back cover there is a photograph I must describe because it is so intimate and lovely: Margaret is cradled between Hal’s legs. She is clutching his bare foot while he has one arm casually slung over her shoulder. His hand barely brushes her breast…

Nancy said: Always a Distant Anchorage is “the perfect choice for those who dream of one big voyage” (p 201).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “See the Sea” (p 201).


The Most Offending Soul Alive

Heimann, Judith M. The Most Offending Soul Alive: Tom Harrisson and His Remarkable Life. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 19997.

Reason read: Tom Harrisson’s birth month is September. Read in his honor.

Tom Harrisson lived from 1911 to 1976 and was, as Heimann puts it, “an adventurer who lived among cannibals.” That in and of itself is enough to write a book about but Tom was also a man who even as a child loved to push buttons. He had an ongoing battle with hierarchy and thrived on seeing what he could get away with on a daily basis. In his adult life, often drunk and disorderly, it was his brilliant mind that made him forgivable to most people; everyone except his own father. His brilliance is the only reason I can think of for his friend to turn a blind eye when Tom begins a blatantly obvious affair with the friend’s wife. Aside from “stealing women from their men” as the Grateful Dead said, Tom’s passion was researching flora and fauna and traveled to such places as Sarawak and New Hebrides to study new species. Later, when he met the cannibals, he became interested in sociology and became an expert at observing culture. Even though the rest of The Most Offending Soul Alive isn’t as interesting Heimann goes on to colorfully detail the rest of Harrisson’s  life, ending with his fatal accident in January 1976. While not much else has been written about Harrisson otherwise, I feel that Heimann’s is a bias laden, no-stone-left-unturned kind of biography.

Author fact: Tom Harrisson was a neighbor of Heimann’s on Borneo.

Book trivia: The Most Offending Soul Alive is chock full of interesting photographs.

Nancy said: Judith Heimann’s biography “brings him [Harrisson] to vivid life” (Book Lust To Go p 39).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Borneo and Sarawak” (p 38).


Life and Times of Miami Beach

Armbruster, Ann. The Life and Times of Miami Beach. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.

Reason read: Hurricane Irma blew into town on September 10th, 2017.

The Life and Times of Miami Beach would make a good coffee table book; one of those gorgeous to look at and flip through (even if you don’t have the time to read) books. The photography (in both black and white and color) is spectacular.
We begin in 1900. Miami Beach was nothing but spits of sand and swamp. By 1915 keen-eyed entrepreneur Carl Fisher looked at the bug and alligator infested mangroves and said resolutely why not? Why not create a vacation hot spot out of an uninhabited peninsula? In the beginning business was slow. Marjory Stoneman Douglas wasn’t impressed with a tourist season that was only two months long.
By the 1920s Miami Beach was a real estate developer’s dream. Hotel growth exploded with expensive, over-the-top, grandiose places to stay. Prohibition was a joke as rum runners smuggled alcohol in disguised as fish and shipped it inland marketed as grapefruits or tomatoes. Swim suits could be rented for twenty five cents.
In the 1930s the big names wanted to be seen in Miami Beach. Names like Firestone, Ford, Maytag, Honeywell, Florsheim, Hoover, and Hertz. Eleanor Roosevelt and Charles Lindbergh came to visit.
In the 1940s Miami became a haven for military men.
By the late ’50s and early ’60s Miami Beach’s identity was changing again with visits from tourists from all over. Over two million people were flocking to the Beach paradise. Jackie Gleason, the Beatles, Debbie Reynolds and Desi Arnaz (to name a few) added to the publicity.
Armbruster ends her coffee table book with the wrap up “1970s to present” present means the ’80s). The last chapter is a quick four pages dedicated to Miami Beach’s flagging economy and reputation and its rebirth and redevelopment.

As an aside, Phish had a New Year’s Eve run in Miami Beach a few years ago. I didn’t attend but I heard the show was epic.

Author fact: Armbruster has no outward connection to Miami. According to her bio she was born in Michigan, raised in Ohio, and studied in New York. My guess is that someone she is related to has the connection to Miami.

Book trivia: The Life and Times of Miami Beach can be called a gorgeous book with over 200 photographs and illustrations.

Nancy said: Nancy didn’t say anything specific about Armbruster’s book.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the obvious chapter called “Miami and Environs” (p 145).


Babylon Rolling

Boyden, Amanda. Babylon Rolling. New York: Pantheon Books, 2008.

Reason read: Hurricane Ivan roared through the eastern seaboard in September 2004. I should know because it disrupted my wedding.

Five very different New Orleans families on Orchid Street are under a microscope in Boyden’s second book, Babylon Rolling. A careless accident will initially bring these neighbors into focus, but it’s the threat of intolerance that tightens their connections to one another.
Ed and Ariel with their two children (impossibly named Miles and Ella), are newly transplanted from Minneapolis, Minnesota. He’s a stay at home dad while she is a GM for a hotel. There is trouble in the marriage. Sharon Harris has all she can handle with her two trouble-making boys, Daniel aka “Fearious” and Michael aka “Muzzy.” Both are druglord wannabes. Cerise and Roy Brown are trying to live in peace with their grown daughter Maria. Racist Philomenia Beargard de Bruges keeps an eye on the street while her husband, Joe battles colon cancer. Then there are the Guptas who have moved into the largest house on the block. Their presence is barely felt in the plot.

One of the least liked elements of Boyden’s writing is her character stereotypes. The voice of each community member vibrates with an exaggerated edge, especially the “thugs” and African Americans. Dialogues sound forced and even comical at times. Confessional: the only character I liked was Cerise. She was the only normal one of the bunch.

Quotes I liked enough to mention, “Ed needed to work on his acceptance of overweight humans” (p 14) and “Her duties at this point in the marriage are very clearly defined, such that she has to do next to nothing for him should she not want to” (p 187).

Author fact: Boyden’s first novel was Pretty Little Dirty which is not on my Challenge list but sounds like it was a success.

Nancy said: Babylon Rolling features “a large cast of exquisitely drawn characters” (Book Lust To Go p 155).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “News From N’Orleans” (p 155).


Case of the Man Who Died Laughing

Hall, Tarquin. The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing. Read by Sam Dastor.

Reason read: to finish the series started in August in honor of Rajiv Ratna Gandgi being born in August.

Vish Puri is India’s most Private Investigator. Confidentiality is his watchword. His bread and butter cases mostly consist of background and character checks for betrothed couples. In a culture where prearranged marriages are the norm it is critical for parents to know they have chosen wisely for their offspring. Other cases involve revealing hoaxes or frauds, but every once in awhile a case with more significance comes along. Such is the case of the man who died laughing. A prominent scientist while in a laughing class was seemingly murdered by the Hindu goddess Kali. She appeared to be floating above the crowd brandishing a huge sword. Many thought it was a supernatural occurrence because Kali was devoid of strings or wires. She really seemed to be hovering above the crowd. Lucky for India that Puri retained a kernel of skepticism. Along with his trusty team, Facecream, Tubelight and Flush, Puri is on the case.

Author fact: I love with when people or places connect. One of the most influential books I read earlier this year was by Emmanuel Jal who was mentored by Emma McCune. Tarquin Hall did a profile on Emma when he was a news reporter.

Book trivia: Hall started writing the Puri series in 2008. There are two others after The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing, but I’m not reading them.

Lines I liked: none enough to quote this time.

Nancy said: nothing special.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Sojourns in South Asia” (p 212). Here’s what happens when the title of a book is incorrectly indexed in Book Lust To Go: Somehow The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing was indexed as The Man Who Died Laughing. Alphabetically under M instead of C which meant that I had to change four different spreadsheets.


Under the Snow

Ekman, Kirsten. Under the Snow. Translated by Joan Tate. New York: Picador. 1999.

Reason read: August is Ekman’s birth month; read in her honor.

I love it when someone calls a book “moody.” It’s even better when I agree with them.
There are tensions in an isolated village near the Lapland border where everyone knows your name, wants your secrets, and suffers together through a winter that is “5,064 hours long” (p 4). Even Police Constable Torsson has an attitude when he learns he has to travel 25 miles over the ice and snow to investigate the death of a young teacher. When a man is found frozen to death in a snowbank and the entire community won’t talk about the details, for all appearances it looks like an accident. This much is true – after getting into a fight after a mah-jongg game Matti Olsen collapsed and died of exposure. Case closed. Or is it? A friend of Matti’s arrives the next summer and convinces Torsson it isn’t really over; the case deserves a second look. Is it connected to a woman with a piece of bloody rope in a backpack?
For most of the story it bounces from perspective to perspective as different characters share what they want you to know. Most effectively, Ekman reserves the first person narrative for the murderer’s detailed confession.

Quotes to quote even if they are a little abstract, “Waves of small talk were now lapping over the place where he had sunk” (p 12) and “The headwaiter decided not to love him, a delusion requiring no great spiritual struggle” (p 45).

Author fact: Ekman also wrote Black Water which is also on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: Under the Snow was first published in 1961. For some reason that took me by surprise. It wasn’t translated by Joan Tate until 1996.

Nancy said: Nancy didn’t say anything specific about Under the Snow.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the cute chapter called “Swede(n) Isn’t It?” (p 223).


Eurydice Street

Zinovieff, Sofka. Eurydice Street: a Place in Athens. London: Granta Books, 2005.

Reason read: Domition of the Holy Mother Virgin occurs on August 15th.

British-born Sofka Zinovieff travels back to Athens, Greece with her Greek husband and children. In Eurydice Street she recounts the first year of her efforts to “become” Greek. Embracing culture, politics and customs, Zinovieff vividly describes the swirling life around her. Because of her unbridled enthusiasm, friends comment she is more Greek than her husband. Eurydice Street is an interesting blend of history, travelogue, memoir, and political commentary on all things Athens.

Author fact: Eurydice Street is Zinovieff’s first book.

Book trivia: Eurydice Street includes two hand drawn maps.

Nancy said: Eurydice Street was an “excellent choice” for reading about Greece.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Just So Much Greek To Me” (p 120).