Farthest North

Nansen, Dr. Fridtjof. Farthest North: the Incredible Three-Year Voyage to the Frozen Latitudes of the North. Edited by Jon Krakauer. New York: Modern Library, 1999.

Reason read: Peary’s birth month is in May. From one traveler to another…

Nansen’s journey, from June 24th, 1893 to April 7th, 1895, took him to the farthest reaches of the North Pole. Blessed with the support of the Norwegian government and the King of Norway, Nansen set sail with ample provisions, able men and strong sled dogs. Farthest North is Nansen’s first person account of the adventure, complete with journal entries and fantastic photography and drawings. A word of warning to the animal lovers: Nansen’s no-nonsense approach to killing various animals is harsh. I had a hard time with how he described shooting a curious seal.
Aside from his expedition, Nansen was a fascinating character. He invented a new type of sled for traversing the Arctic terrain. He was a biologist who worked with nature. His theory for success was to allow his ship, the Fram, to become trapped in the ice. The Fram was built to withstand the pressures of the ice floes and move with the fluctuations so as not to be torn apart. However, while Nansen was smart about the construction of the Fram, he was not so clever concerning the rising tides that ended up swamping his boats at one point of the expedition.
To keep busy during the ice entrapment, Nansen established a music factory, repairing much loved instruments. By default, Nansen’s love of forward progress transferred to his crew. To keep busy for the sake of industry, when the ship’s doctor didn’t have patients to see he set up a book binding business to care for the well used library.
Even though he failed to reach the true North Pole Nansen was the first one to cross Greenland successfully.

As an aside, I love a scientist who uses the technical word, “ugh.”

Favorite lines, “A good library was of great importance to an expedition like ours, and thanks to publishers and friends, both in our own and in other countries, we were very well supplied in this respect” (p 33), and “You can hear the vibrations of your own nerves” (p 228).

Author fact: Nansen won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with displaced victims of World War I. He was considered a great humanitarian.

Book trivia: Farthest North includes a biography of Nansen as well as an introduction to the text by Roland Huntford and three maps of Franz Josef Land.

Nancy said: Pearl said Farthest North would “fit the bill for armchair travelers” (p 233).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “To the Ends of the Earth: North and South (the Arctic)” (p 233).


“Garden Party”

Mansfield, Katherine. “Garden Party.” Garden Party: and Other Stories. Garden City, New York: Garden City Publishing Company, Inc., 1922.

Reason read: June is National Short Story Month.

“Garden Party” illustrates many themes: wealth versus poverty, insensitivity versus compassion, death versus life.
Wealthy Mrs. Sheridan has been preparing for an elaborate garden party with flowers and tents, food and music. Servants and gardeners and workers toil like busy bees here, there, and everywhere setting up chairs, organizing the musicians, placing the flowers just so. The excitement catches with her four children, too. But when a terrible accident leaves a man dead right outside their gates daughter Laura doesn’t thinks it’s appropriate for the show to go on. She questions the sensitivity of their actions. Later Mrs. Sheridan allows Laura to bring a basket of food to the dead man’s family. Walking through the poor neighborhood gives Laura a new perspective and in the face of mortality she learns about living.

Quote to quote, “The very smoke coming out of their chimneys was poverty stricken” (p 71). What a devastating image.

Author fact: the location of the garden party was modeled after Mansfield’s own property.

Book trivia: my copy of Garden Party was marked up like someone was editing the book. Bummer.

Nancy said: Pearl asked her readers not to neglect Mansfield, calling “Garden Party” brilliant.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “Kiwis Forever! New Zealand in Print” (p 124).


Secret Knowledge of Water

Childs, Craig. The Secret Knowledge of Water: Discovering the Essence of the American Desert. Seattle: Sasquatch, 2000.

Reason read: I’m reading this for several reasons. The original reason was since this is a nature book and John Muir’s birth month is in April I wanted to read this in his honor. Second reason is Earth Day being in April. Duh. Third (and probably most important reason…) I am headed to Arizona in the next month!

I just finished a harrowing tale that involved desperate illegal immigrants trying to brave the scorching harsh desert to make it to the promised land of the United States. Images of Mexican refugees left to die of thirst, roasting in the arid desert played through my mind as I read Craig Childs’s Secret Knowledge of Water. Childs willingly and eagerly traverses this seemingly barren landscape; bringing his readers through ravines and canyons; vast wastelands that look like the epitome of nothingness. But, pay attention to Childs’s lyrical language and a new desert starts to form before our eyes. Dripping caverns create pools of water rich with organisms.
There is an egotistical slant to my interest in a subject or rather, my attention to reading about it. Secret Knowledge of Water was interesting enough but it became more fascinating when Child talked of specific areas I plan to visit in May.

Lines I liked because I am in love with the night sky, “hysterical swarming of stars” (p 14), and “Then the stars took everything” (p 41).
Other lines I liked, “The world changed color when you think you might doe soon” (p 235), and “The entire Grand Canyon is thus a machine devised to capture and drive flash floods” (p 242).

Author fact: Childs also wrote The Animal Dialogues which is on my Challenge list. At the time of Secret’s publication he was a river guide.

Book trivia: The Secret Knowledge of Water does not contain photographs but it does have illustrations.

Nancy said: Pearl wanted to mention another book by Childs but since it was not specifically about Arizona she settled on Secret Knowledge.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “AZ You Like It” (p 30).


Council of the Cursed

Tremayne, Peter. The Council of the Cursed. New York: Minotaur Books, 2008.

Reason read: to “finish” the series started last month in honor of St. Patrick’s Day being in the month of March.

The year is 670 AD and wise Fidelma of Cashel has been called to the city of french city Autun to act as advisor to the Irish delegation to a Christian council normally hostile to the Celtic Church. This council decided the religious rule of Saint Benedict to be of Roman church practices. Like Absolution for Murder, Fidelma and her now husband Eadulf encounter a murder upon their arrival to Autun. Because of her reputation as a “crime solver” Bishop Leodegar asks Fidelma to investigate the death, giving her full access to investigate despite the fact a year earlier Leogedar ordered a full segregation of the sexes. Male members of the church were ordered to be celibate or, if already married, give up their families and divorce their wives. Women were simply forbidden in almost all areas. Some women disappeared altogether. Additional to this stumbling block, the death occurred a full week before Fidelma and Eadulf’s arrival. They have no chance to examine the body of Abbot Dabhoc or seek clues from the crime scene in real time. No one seems to want the couple to solve this crime. Is it because Fidelma is a woman? Witnesses are hostile, other individuals mysteriously disappear or are found dead outside the gates of the city. It is only after Fidelma and Eadulf experience near-death “accidents” that they begin to wonder if they are uncovering a much larger scandal.
Also like Absolution for Murder readers are treated to a little lesson on religion. One example among many Tremayne outlined: God is either the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost or he is the Trinity and Trinity in Unity. Both mean the same thing so which is right?
Since Absolution for Murder Fidelma and Eadulf have gotten married and have a son. This makes sense because Council of the Cursed is eighteen books later.

Quote I liked, “Truth is never found through a game of chance” (p 77).
Best word I liked, “scriptorium” (the library).

Author fact: Tremayne also writes as Peter MacAlan.

Book trivia: All of Tremayne’s books seem a little heavy on the religious lectures. Council of the Cursed is no different.

Nancy said: Pearl said she has enjoyed Tremayne’s series over the years and recommended The Council of the Cursed as a good place to start.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Ireland: Beyond Joyce, Behan, Beckett, and Synge” (p 110).


All Souls

Marias, Javier. All Souls. Translated by Margaret Jull Costa. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992.

Reason read: Oxford Jazz festival is in April.

I don’t exactly know how to explain All Souls except to say it is the first person narrative of a professor at Oxford with a two year contract. He remembers not having a heavy teaching load, but instead had heavy opinions of his colleagues. Most of his narrative is remembering his struggle to carry on a more then superficial affair with a married woman and the hurt he felt when she snubbed him for a month when her child was ill. He was a hard character to feel sorry for.
Confessional: I don’t think I much like the narrator of All Souls. He is an opinionated, standoffish, snarly man. On the other hand, I was fascinated with Will the porter. At ninety years old he lives in his head and those around him never know what era he thinks he is in but they accommodate him nicely.

Quote to quote, “Mrs. Alabaster was a smiling, authoritarian woman, with one of those very English smiles that you see adorning the faces of those famous strangers in films as they’re about to chose their next victim” (p 75).
Here’s another odd one, “We always condemn ourselves by what we say, not by what we do, but what we say or what we say we do, not by that others say or by what we actually have done” (p 31).

Author fact: Marias also wrote the Your Face Tomorrow series which is also on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: All Souls was the first fiction of Marias to be translated by Margaret Jull Costa in 1992.

Nancy said: Pearl said nothing special about All Souls except to quote a line from it.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Oxford” in the section “Literary Fiction” (p 171).


Absolution By Murder

Tremayne, Peter. Absolution By Murder. New York: New American Library, 1997.

Reason read: read in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.

To set the stage for Absolution by Murder: Sister Fidelma mysteries are set during the medieval mid-seventh century. At this time in history there is the well-known debate between the Celtic Christian and Roman churches in the Northumbria region. Its king stages a debate to determine the supreme authority and religious doctrine. The heroine of the series, Sister Fidelma, is an advocate of the ancient law courts of Ireland. But, when the Abbess of the Columban order is murdered Fidelma takes it upon herself to solve the mystery of who killed her friend.
Readers will get a lesson in the differences between blessings at the Trinity versus Columban church. Picture the sign of the cross: is it Celtic with the first, third and fifth fingers raised? Or is it Roman with only the thumb, fist and second fingers? The hand gestures are different yet both are valid forms of worship.

Lines I liked: I will not quoting anything because the author didn’t allow any part of the publication to be reproduced for any reason without the consent…blah blah blah. Instead, I will outline a scene I liked. Because of the time in history Tremayne needed to illustrate a world-is-flat kind of ignorance. Because the science of a solar eclipse was not widely understood in the seventh century, some took its occurrence as an omen something terrible was about to happen. In this case superstition rang true because soon after the eclipse people started to die.

Author fact: Peter Berresford Ellis  is Peter Tremayne’s real name. He started his writing career as a reporter.

Book trivia: Absolution by Murder is the first Sister Fidelma mystery. Nearly thirty more follow.

Nancy said: Pearl said you have to be in certain mood to enjoy Tremayne mysteries and that “those committed to reading the series in order” should start with Absolution by Murder.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Ireland: Beyond Joyce, Behan, Beckett, and Synge” (p 112).


Cherry

Wheeler, Sara. Cherry: A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard. New York: Random House, 2002.

Reason read: Apsley George Benet Cherry-Garrard was part of Robert Falcon Scott’s final trip to the Antarctic. Scott was born in March. Read in his honor.

This was the age when everyone wanted to get to a Pole. North Pole or South Pole, it didn’t matter. For Apsley Cherry-Garrard, his expedition was to the South Pole with Robert Falcon Scott (Scott’s second journey).
Antarctica fueled the competitive spirits of Robert Falcon Scott and his expedition as they constantly compared their experiences in the Antarctic to Shackleton’s and kept a close eye on reports of Amundsen’s progress a short distance away. I am not going to review the events of what happened during this particular expedition as everyone is well familiar with Scott’s demise. Let’s focus on Cherry.
After the expedition Cherry’s life was consumed by his experiences. His opinion of Scott changed several different times as the reality of what he lived through sharpened. The expedition gave him purpose in life (writing a book and lecturing about it) while haunting his sleep and stunting his ability to move on from it. He predicted that large government-funded science stations would pop up in the Antarctic. He specifically mentioned Ross Island as a location for such a station. Wheeler does a fantastic job painting a sympathetic portrait of a complicated man.
As an aside, I am trying to imagine the amount of gear one would take to the South Pole. It boggled my mind that Scott would ask Cherry to learn how to type and to bring two typewriters even though no one else knew how to use them.

As another aside, wouldn’t it be terrible to name your pony and then have to eat him later?

Quotes to quote, “If you have the desire for knowledge and the power to give it physical expression, go out and explore” (Cherry’s own words, p 218) and “They decided to marry before gas masks were permanently strapped to their faces” (p 259).

Author fact: Wheeler is an Arctic explorer in her own right. I have of her books on my Challenge list: Evia, Terra Incognita, Too Close to the Sun, and Travels in a Thin Country.

Book trivia: Wheeler includes a modest set of photographs not only of the expedition but of Cherry’s childhood and later years. My favorite was of Cherry at one of his typewriters.

Nancy said: Pearl called Cherry a “great” biography.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “To the Ends of the Earth: North and South (Antarctica)” (p 235).