Durrell, Gerald. Birds, Beasts, and Relatives. New York: Penguin Books, 1978
Reason read: to continue the series started in honor of Humor month in April.
Birds, Beasts, and Relatives is one of those books that keeps the party going. As the second book in the Corfu trilogy, Birds includes stories previously untold in My Family and Other Animals. While the Durrell family only spent four years on the Greek island of Corfu, Gerald was able to dig around in his memory and find always humorous, and sometimes outrageous, and obviously exaggerated situations to share…much to his family’s chagrin. These stories usually involved young Gerald coming across some wild animal and insisting it become part of the family as an honorary pet (such as an owl, given to Gerald by an eccentric Countess). Interested in his natural surroundings, Gerald was guided by biologist and fellow naturalist, Theodore. It was Gerald’s keen observations about his world that held my attention.
Author fact: Durrell was a television personality and the subject of a few documentaries.
Book trivia: Birds, Beasts, and Other Relatives was actually Durrell’s twelfth autobiographical book. It is followed by The Garden of the Gods, which is also on my list.
Nancy said: Pearl included Birds, Beasts, and Relatives in a list of books which made her laugh out loud. Laughing is very good these days. In Book Lust To Go Pearl says Birds, Beasts, and Relatives is not up to “the joyful perfection of [My Family and Other Animals], but is no slouch” (Book Lust To Go p 70).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Tickle Your Funny Bone” (p 220); and from Book Lust To Go in the chapter simply called “Corfu” (p 70).
Baldwin, Monica. I Leap Over the Wall: Contrasts and Impressions After Twenty-Eight Years in a Convent. New York: Rinehart & Company, 1950.
Reason read: Easter is one of the most religious holidays I know. During this pandemic crisis my family had a zoom meeting in order to be together. Read Baldwin in recognition of Easter.
Like the title implies, Monica Baldwin spent twenty-eight years of her life in a Roman Catholic convent. She had thought she wanted to give her life to God until one day…she didn’t. So after twenty-eight years, she left. Just like that. The first order of business “on the outside” was for Baldwin to find suitable clothes for the outside world. The second critical task was to secure suitable employment. The first was easier than the second considering England was in the midst of World War II. Baldwin struggled as a gardener, a matron at a camp for female munitions workers, a canteen cook, and a librarian. At heart she was always a writer. I Leap Over the Wall was meant to be a journalistic memoir, contrasting and comparing the structured life of being a nun to the haphazardness of the outside. Readers get a sense of how structured Baldwin’s life had been on the inside: the day to day duties of a novice and even the caste-like division of the monastic houses. Despite this structure, something she thought she needed, Baldwin knew from the very beginning that entering the convent was a mistake. It took her twenty-eight years to seek rescript from the Vatican.
Author fact: I find it really interesting that Baldwin entered the convent soon after the start of World War I and emerged during World War II.
Book trivia: My copy of I Leap Over the Wall was inscribed “Elinor E. Parker February 1, 1950 Brooklyn, N.Y.” I have no idea who Elinor was or how her book ended up in the attic of my parents.
Nancy said: Pearl said she was entranced with Baldwin’s book because it was a world she would never know.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers: the Family of the Clergy” (p 86).
Kuklin, Susan. In Search of Safety: Voices of Refugees. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2020.
Reason read: this is an Early Review from LibraryThing. Although I am hardly reading anything these days, this was too important to ignore.
In Search of Safety is comprised of five refugee stories from five different parts of the world yet all have two common threads. All five stories are of individuals seeking safety despite varying circumstances. They all end up in the United States in, of all places, Nebraska.
Fraidoon from Afghanistan, Nathan from Myanmar, Nyarout from South Sudan, Shireen from Northern Iraq, and Dieudonne from Burundi. Each refugee demonstrates remarkable courage, strength and, above all, trust to journey to America. In Search of Safety is compassionate and Kuklin is respectful in telling each harrowing story. The book’s hidden strength is the amount of information in Part VI: Notes and Resources.
Book trivia: there is a great number of touching photographs and (in the published edition) maps.
Haviland, Virginia, ed. The Openhearted Audience: Washington D.C.: Library of Congress, 1980.
Reason read: Pearl included this in the chapter called “Your Tax Dollars at Work” and tax filing time is normally April. Read in memory of normalcy.
Openhearted Audience is a collection of essays (actually lectures given in observance of National Children’s Book Week, (in November) at the Library of Congress) by authors who primarily write books for children:
- Pamela Travers who wrote the Mary Poppins series (which is not on my list).
- Maurice Sendak who wrote so many good books (everyone knows Where the Wild Things Are). None are on my challenge list, though. I liked what he had to say about New York, “Now, the point of going to New York was that you ate in New York” (p 32). Amen.
- Joan Didion who wrote Miami, which I finished for the challenge and Play It as It Lies which will be read later. she wanted to know what it means to write for children as opposed to adults. Is there stigma attached to writing for a less developed intelligence?
- Erik Haugaard who made the point about sharing art. I have often wondered why it is important to us that people first agree, then like, our recommendations where art is concerned. the fact we can find ourselves offended when one doesn’t share our opinions, or worse, dislike the recommendation mystifies me. Even though we didn’t produce the art, write the book, or make the movie, we feel rejected somehow; as if the art we presented were our own.
- Ursula K. Le Guin who wrote The Wizard of Earthsea (her first book for children).
- Ivan Southall who said “Life is more than blunt reaction” (p 87).
- Virginia Hamilton who won the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1969.
- Jill Paton Walsh who won the Whitbread Literary Award in 1974.
- Eleanor Cameron who talks of dreams.
- John Rowe Townsend who was both a critic and a children’s writer.
Author Editor fact: Haviland interviewed Sendak. I wonder what that experience was like because he seemed like a curmudgeon.
Book trivia: Openhearted Audience is full of great illustrations.
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything about this selection. In fact, she didn’t pick it. A librarian from Illinois sent Pearl a list of government documents people should read and Openhearted Audience was included.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust as mentioned before in the chapter called “You Tax Dollars at Work” (p 239).
Kennedy, Kate. More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Maine Women. Guilford, CT: The Globe Pequot Press, 2005.
Reason read: to satisfy a Portland Public Reading Challenge category: Maine history.
More Than Petticoats is a series of biographies focusing on historically significant women by location. I believe every state in the country has a book and some states, like California, have a second volume. For the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge, I read More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Maine Women. Thirteen biographies of some women you might know and others you may not recognize: Marguerite-Blanche Thibodeau Cyr, Kate Furbish, Abbie Burgess Grant, Lillian M.N. Stevens, Sarah Orne Jewett, Cornelia “Fly Rod” Crosby, Lillian “La Nordica” Norton, Josephine Diebitsch Peary, Florence Nicolar Shay, Marguerite Thompson Zorach, Florence Eastman Williams, Sister R. Mildred Barker, and Margaret Chase Smith. From 1738 – 1995. I love Maine’s rich history. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Sarah Orne Jewett, Franklin Pierce. I could go on and on.
As an aside, my sister takes pictures of a water fountain close to her library. I now know the history of the girl: the Women’s Christian Temperance Union dedicated the fountain to Lillian M.N. Stevens. Very cool.
Confessional: I want to visit Abbie Burgess Grant’s grave. According to Kennedy, Grant is buried in the Forest Hill Cemetery in South Thomaston. Her final resting place should be easy to find. Her headstone is the one with the lighthouse.
I also want to visit Sarah Orne Jewett’s house in South Brunswick. I hear it’s open to the public. I should just go on a Maine Women vacation.
Mosebach, Martin. The 21: a journey into the land of Coptic martyrs. Translated by Alta L. Price. Walden, New York: Plough Publishing, 2019.
Reason read: Early Review selection from LibraryThing.
At the very least, The 21 is a thoughtful examination of the martyrs and their humble lives before they became regarded as saints. Mosebach travels to their villages, respectfully meets with their families, and comes away with a poignant picture of stoic grief and outward pride in equal emotion. The most important element to this story is its power to move people regardless of their personal beliefs. Mosebach was compelled to tell the stories of the men in orange; martyrs compared to Jesus on the cross, exposed and seemingly calm before the facing impending execution. The aftermath was just as heart wrenching as the deaths. What those families had to go through just to bring the bodies home; how they needed to search the desert sand for the bodies first before their sons, brothers, and husbands could be buried in El-Aour as saints. Imagine: sixteen of the twenty one had been neighbors; living on the same narrow lane. Unimaginable: each home had an identical iPad so families and loved ones could watch the full, unedited version of the executions. This goes to show you how differently western culture views tragedy. The families of El-Aour proved the enemy had not won as the desired effect had not been achieved. Despite all that, The 21 was a hard book to read.
Author fact: Mosebach is also an accomplished poet.
Book trivia: The 21 was originally published in Germany in 2018 and became a best seller. The foreward was written by the Archbishop of London.
Publisher trivia: Plough is a faith publication whose mission is to find common ground with all.
Horwitz, Tony. Baghdad without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia.
Reason read: Baghdad was bombed in March 2003. Read in memory of that event.
Baghdad in the mid 1980s was such a volatile place to be. For Tony Horwitz to be bombing around (pun totally intended) Arabia was insane. There he was, in a land where even local weather reports and maps were banned. Think about it. As a left handed, Jewish stringer, he was not the most popular person to be wandering about those parts of the middle east. He met many people who exclaimed, “Death to America!” before gushing about Disneyland or Hollywood. Despite the dangers and hatreds, his narrative is more than slightly tongue-in-cheek and a lot more than a little funny. He scoffs at roadblocks manned by a 7′ cardboard soldier (while the real military gets stoned on qat). He makes light of millions of crushing fanatics at Khomeini’s funeral. He jokes about not being able to find his wife cloaked in a chador. At the same time as being funny, he is keenly observant. One of my favorites notes – while middle eastern air travel is not the safest; the oxygen masks made be missing, but at least passengers know which direction they should bow their heads in prayer thanks to a “Mecca indicator” on the ceiling of their aircraft.
As an aside, I love it when the knowledge lens gets a little wider. Through reading Martin Mosebach’s The 21, I gained a broader perspective of the Coptic Christian community. So when the Coptics were mentioned in Baghdad Without a Map the reference wasn’t a foreign concept.
Quotes to quote, “The history of modern Baghdad reads like Macbeth, only bloodier” (p 113), and “A man could play Rambo for less money than he paid for a week’s worth of qat” (p 37).
Author fact: Sadly, Tony Horwitz died last year at the age of sixty years young. Heart attack, I think.
Book trivia: There are no photographs included in Baghdad Without a Map. Bummer.
Nancy said: Pearl said her favorite line in Baghdad without a Map included Horwitz’s humor and insight.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time” (p 113). It’s funny Pearl included Horwitz’s book in this chapter because he ended up going back to the middle east again…so maybe it in his mind it was always a good idea. No regrets.