A Few Figs From Thistles

Millay, Edna St. Vincent. A Few Figs From Thistles: Poems and Sonnets. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1922.

Reason read: April is National Poetry Month.

The poem Pearl wanted her readers to focus on from A Few Figs From Thistles is “The Unexplorer” (p 24). It is an incredibly short poem about a little girl who asks her mother where the road by their house leads. The mother replies it ends at the milk-man’s door. For some reason that information suddenly ends the little girl’s desire to go down the road. I am of a darker mind when I think the little girl is afraid of the milk-man and doesn’t want to run into him when really it could be she thinks the milk-man’s front door is not an exciting enough destination. So she has put it out of her mind. She is no longer curious. That’s the thing about poetry. It is ambiguous enough that it could mean anything you want it to. I prefer the darker version. the milk-man’s front door is not a place for young girls.

As an aside, from every aspect of my accounting, from the spreadsheets to the codes in LibraryThing, A Few Figs From Thistles is supposed to be a More Book Lust read as well as from Book Lust To Go. It’s not in the index of More Book Lust nor can I find it within the obvious chapters. Really weird.

Author fact: To her friends, Edna was called Vincent.

Book trivia: Read between the lines and you will find Millay’s viewpoint on feminism and sexuality.

Nancy said: This poem sets the tone for Pearl’s entire book, Book Lust To Go (p xiii). She is not a traveler and she cites “The Unexplorer” as explanation. It’s kind of funny.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the introduction (p xiii).


Zeitoun

Eggers, Dave. Zeitoun. New York: Vintage Books, 2009.

Reason read: Louisiana was founded in the month of April.

For the rest of the world, Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath of her horrible devastation are receding images in the rear view mirror; images replaced by other natural and man-made disasters of bigger and nastier proportions. To the rest of the world what happened in New Orleans is fast becoming a series of footnotes in history’s troubled narrative. But, for the people of New Orleans, the nightmare is far from over. Zeitoun is just one man’s story. A man who stayed to wait out the storm. A man who tried to help those in need wherever and however he could. A man caught up in racial profiling, prejudices, and fast-ignited bad judgements. There were hundred of stories just like his. Dave Eggers makes the story more interesting than run of the mill.

When it was all said and done, I had to wonder about Zeitoun’s character. Here was a man who stubbornly made his wife and child walk four hours one way on a beach to reach a rock formation he could see in the distance.
As an aside, I tried to not let the rest of Zeitoun’s public story change how I read Eggers’s book. Like everyone else, I Googled Zeitoun and found out about his violent behavior towards his wife and their legal battles. So sad.

Quotes to quote, “The winds were still many days from being relevant to his life” (p 24).

Author fact: Dave Eggers was born in Boston and is my age.

Book trivia: Oddly enough, even though there are photographs in Zeitoun they are of his family and not what everyone would expect, of the devastation in New Orleans.

Nancy said: Nancy outlines the basic plot of Zeitoun.

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


“Travel”

Millay, Edna St. Vincent. “Travel.” April Second. New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1921. p33.

Reason read: April is National Poetry Month. Note the title of the book from where “Travel” was published.

The poem “Travel” reminded me of Freya Stark in it’s restlessness and sense of adventure. To look at train tracks and wonder where they end up. To watch a plane make its way across the sky, the contrails fading bit by bit, and guess its final destination. Who hasn’t done that?
Confessional: As a child I did the reverse. While riding in my father’s car I used to watch the world passing by and if I saw someone in a yard raking leaves or watering a garden I would try to put myself in their shoes. To stand there, rake or garden hose in hand as the silver car flashes by with the little girl peering out the window, her blank face staring. What was it to be standing still as my other self rode by? Did the gardener wonder where I was going?

Author fact: Millay was born in Rockland, Maine.

Poem trivia: the theme of restlessness has been compared to Millay’s sense of sexuality and how she “traveled” between genders as a bisexual.

Nancy said: Nancy said she could identify with Millay’s poem “Travel” because it described how she wished she felt – that sense of adventure to ride the rails no matter where they took her (p 138).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the introduction to the chapter called “Making Tracks by Train” (p 138).


The Good Son

Gruber, Michael. The Good Son. Read by Neil Shah. Blackstone Audio, 2010.

Reason read: The history of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan begins in March.

From the very beginning you cannot help but root for Theo. He is an ex-Delta soldier trying to be the sensitive tough guy while is mother is being held captive. But, he is only part of the story. Let’s talk about the mother, Sonia Laghari, for a moment. She, along with eight other members of a symposium on peace, have been kidnapped by armed terrorists. Being a deeply religious Jungian psychologist, Sonia becomes the leader of the abducted group. Using her knowledge of the kidnapper’s language and religion she uses her Jungian psychology to interpret their dreams if only to get in their heads. She wants to instill the premise that you can simultaneously hate the war but love the soldier. Despite her own life being in danger, she attempts to generate harmony to “protect” her fellow captives. A sort of reverse Stockholm syndrome. Meanwhile, in Washington there is a Vietnamese National Security translator listening in…The Good Son combines psychology, sociology, religion, and relationships into a thriller well worth the read.

Quotes to quote, “It is easier to tell the truth to the world than to people you love” (p 125) and “Hope and some slight relief from the worst are the best weapons of any tormentor; the torturer smiles and offers a a cigarette” (p 158).

Author fact: Gruber used to be a marine biologist, a restaurant cook and a federal government official. A man of many varying hats. He could be called one of the most interesting men in the world…

Narrator fact: Shah has appeared on the television series, Law & Order.

Book trivia: Due to the nature of Sonia’s character, be prepared for a few didactic moments as Sonia interprets the dreams of her captors and recites poetry.

Nancy said: Nancy called The Good Son a “riveting thriller” (p 214).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Sojourns in South Asia: Pakistan” (p 212).


All the Way Home

Giffels, David. All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling-Down House. New York: William Morrow, 2008.

Reason read: All the Way Home takes place in Akron, Ohio. Ohio became a state in March.

Who buys a house  they describe with adjectives and nouns such as these: rusty, dusty, decay, debris, ruin, smelly, stained, treacherous, flaking, rotted, grime, filthy, cluttered, damaged, wreckage, decomposed, dark, cracked, dingy, chilly, ugly, broken, dirty, scratched, soot, dangerous, rotten, warped, collapsed, cramped, broken, discolored, disintegrated, discolored, poisonous, fermenting, or crusted? You half expect to find, buried deep in the debris, a mummified body a la Bates Motel. In fact, when Giffels first tours the house there is a woman, perched amid the disaster. But, buy the house he does.
Giffels, a self described handyman, needs projects. When he buys the 1913 mansion on North Portage Path (Akron, Ohio) there is every indication he has bit off more than he can chew. That only becomes apparent to himself when he attempts to remove paint from every single door hinge in the house. The master bedroom alone has seventeen doors with at least two hinges…you do the math. And that’s just hinges. Never mind the structural damage like a leaking room that requires 55 roasting pans to catch the downpour whenever it rains, or the jungle of wisteria growing in through the cracks. Then there are the uninvited guests: mice, squirrels, raccoons, termites, carpenter ants, gawkers…it’s a wonder Gina didn’t divorce him.
One of a thousand quotes of humor, “more than anything else, I do not want to die a cartoon character’s death” (p 5).
Quote of foreshadowing, “And I honestly couldn’t decide which I wanted more; to get the house, or to get the house out of my system” (p 73). Indeed, there are numerous times he hoped to get out of buying the house. Starting with his sister-in-law’s neighbor, Earl. Hoping seventy-plus-year-old realtor Earl would advise him it’s a lost cause after seeing it; praying the inspector would say it’s his professional opinion the house is hopeless; and wishing the owners will refuse his insultingly low ball offer. Giffels is seeking any and all opportunities to wriggle out of the fantasy; to escape the choke hold of unreasonable and borderline fanatical desire. None of “outs” happen for Giffels and All the Way Home is born.

Author fact: Giffels used to write for MTV’s Beavis and Butt-Head so you know he has to be funny. And. And! And, I think it goes without saying he must like music since he worked for MTV. Indeed, he quotes Tom Waits right off the bat. Other musicians mentioned:

  • Lou Reed
  • Henry Rollins
  • Paul Westerberg
  • Rage Against the Machine
  • Judas Priest
  • R.E.M.
  • Henry Mancini
  • P.J. Harvey
  • Dave Brubeck
  • Guided By Voices
  • Suzanne Vega
  • Liz Phair
  • Duane Allman
  • Janis Joplin
  • Sonic Youth
  • No Doubt
  • Gewn Stefani
  • Henry Rollins
  • Circle Jerks
  • Rod Stewart
  • Guns ‘n Roses
  • Cyndi Lauper
  • Beatles
  • Joe Strummer
  • The Clash
  • Police
  • Andy Summers
  • Pete Townsend
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Kurt Cobain
  • Chrissy Hynde
  • Yngwie Malmsteen
  • Morphine
  • Mark Sandman
  • They Might Be Giants
  • Replacements

The list was so eclectic I thought about making a mixed tape (because that’s how old I am coming from an era when mixed tapes were a thing). I would call it “All the Way Home.” Here is my (short) fantasy track listing:

    • “You’re Innocent” (when You Dream)” – Tom Waits
    • “Unsatisfied” – Paul Westerberg
    • “So. Central Rain” – R.E.M.
    • “Moon River” – Oranji Symphony
    • “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” – Cyndi Lauper
    • “Money (that’s What I Want) – Beatles
    • “I’m Just a Girl” – No Doubt
    • “Cats in the Cradle”  – Cat Stevens
    • “Swing it Low” – Morphine

Book trivia: Aside from a smattering of photographs in the beginning All the Way Home is mostly devoid of pictures. Bummer.

Nancy said: “This is more than a do-it-yourself memoir; rather it’s a paean to his hometown” (p 168).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called simply “Ohioana” (p 168).


City of Falling Angels

Berendt, John. The City of Falling Angels. Read by Holter Graham. New York: RandomHouse Audio, 2005.

Reason read: Read in honor of Venice Carnivale, which takes place in February.

Author fact: You might recognize John’s name as the author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil which was a best seller and made into a movie.

When one thinks of Venice, the imagery of gondolas and waterways and brightly colored carnival masks usually come to mind. Venice itself is a complicated city and lends itself to an air of old world intrigue. John Berendt fell in love with the city the first time he visited. Upon a subsequent visit, Berendt arrived three days after a devastating fire has ravaged the grand a historic La Fenice Opera House. Rumors of arson swirl among the community prompting Berendt to put on his investigative persona and dig in the ashes of history. Eventually, through meeting a cast of colorful characters, he uncovers the truths and fictions surrounding La Fenice Opera House and Venice.
Special note: if you want to read City of Falling Angels, do yourself a favor and listen to it on CD and make sure to get the version with Berendt’s interview at the end. His explanation for the title of the book is eyeopening.

Narrator trivia: Holter Graham is also an actor for the big screen but I haven’t seen any of his movies.

Book trivia: The first thing that Berendt tells you about City of Falling Angels is that it is true. None of the names have been changed. It is truly a work of nonfiction.

Nancy said: Berendt’s book “explores contemporary Venice” and that he makes the city sound beautiful “despite its bureaucratic nightmares and dangers” (p 241). She even includes a quote she found especially evocative.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Veni, Vedi, Venice” (p 240).


Almond Picker

Hornby, Simonetta Agnello. The Almond Picker. Translated by Alastair McEwan. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.

Reason read: There is a festival is Sicily in February called the Almond Blossom festival.

Maria Rosalia Inzerillo, otherwise known as Mennulara, is a mystery. Born into poverty in Western Sicily, she grew up picking almonds with her farming family. As soon as she was of age, Mennulara became the maid for the rich and powerful Alfallipe family. Over time, she became an indispensable administrator of all their affairs, financial and even personal. She had a talent for investments and became a shrewd businesswoman. Rumors surrounded Mennulara: her wealth, her position in the Alfallipe family, even her rumored connections with the mafia. In life, Mennulara was described as outspoken, brash, brave, rude, unique, bad tempered, devoted, dignified, diffident, distant, unpleasant, imperious, ugly, beautiful, complex, secretive, a tyrant. When she dies at a relatively young age the entire community clamors for answers. Who was this woman? How odd that a seemingly common servant’s death would reverberate through the Italian community and no group is more obsessed than the Alfallipe family. Convinced she owes them her inheritance and then-some, they scheme and squabble to find it. The final outcome is brilliant.
Starting on Monday, September 23rd, 1963 The Almond Picker documents a month in time. The accounts are daily (skipping Saturday, September 28th, 1963)until October 1st, 1963 with a final entry on October 23rd of that same year.

Author fact: Hornby is a rock star. Not only is she a fantastic author but she is a champion for victims of domestic abuse. Which explains the abuse scenes in The Almond Picker.

Book trivia: The Almond Picker is Hornby’s first novel. Second book trivia – Hornby dedicated The Almond Picker to British Airways.

Nancy said: Nancy just pointed out The Almond Picker takes place in Sicily.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter simply called “Sicily” (p 209).