Living with the Little Devil Man

Lisetta, Lina. Living with the Little Devil Man. London: Austin Macauley Publishers, 2018.

Even though this is a quick read (less than 300 pages) I took my time with this story. While it is written plainly, be forewarned it is a hard one to read. Just as I am sure it was just as hard for the author to write. In a nutshell, it is the tragic story of a young man who was pushed off the path of normalcy at an early age by abusive parents. At the age of five Sterling started seeing a little devil man; an ugly little devil who taunted and terrorized him. Unable to articulate his malicious hallucination he kept it to himself. As Sterling grew older the visions became stronger and more pronounced. To combat this torture he turned to drugs and alcohol. These mind altering vices held the little devil man at bay and gave Sterling some sense of sanity despite finally being diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. The rest of Sterling’s life was a precarious balance of normalcy and lunacy, sobriety and addiction, happiness and despair, violence and kindness, stability and unpredictability, caution and recklessness. Because no one ever knew what they would get people closest to Sterling had a hard time keeping him close. He experienced the push-pull of people wanting him near but ultimately needing him to leave. Even the author had breaking points. Prolonged stability in any part of Sterling’s life was nonexistent. There are no happy endings to Living with the Little Devil Man unless you consider the cautionary tale might save someone’s life.

As an aside, with respect to the author’s copyright wishes, I will not be quoting anything from this book as I am not intending this to be a critical review.

Reason read: Confessional – I read this for leisure. I work with Lina.


Calypso

Sedaris, David. Calypso. Read by David Sedaris. New York: Hatchett Audio, 2018.

Reason read: I am participating in the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge again this year. One of the categories is “A book nominated for an award” and Calypso by David Sedaris was nominated for an Audie Award for Audiobook of the Year for 2019.

If you are not familiar with David Sedaris’s writing, please do me a favor and stop reading this review. Do yourself a favor and run out and buy yourself a copy of any one of his books. Really. Any book Sedaris has written would be good. It really doesn’t matter with which one you start your introduction.
But probably the best way to experience Sedaris is to hear him read his own work. He has a comedic timing that is impeccably smart. Coupled this with his sarcastic wit and he will have you laughing and crying at the same time. I don’t know how he makes feeding a defrosted human tumor (his own) to a snapping turtle funny, or his mother’s alcoholism, or his sister’s suicide but really truly, he does. You find yourself in awe of how he chooses to see each situation. That viewpoint translates into a keen sense of the bigger picture and the world around him. From fashion from Japan to trash picking in England, Sedaris invites you to never see life the same way again.

Line I wish I had written, “…We stayed until our fingerprints were on everything” (from The Perfect Fit).


Exploring the Southwest

Gagne, Tammy. Exploring the Southwest. North Mankato, Minnesota: Abdo Publishing, 2018.

Reason read: planning a trip to the Southwest for my birthday.

This may be a book written for young children but I found it to be a good starting place for planning my trip to the southwest region of the United States. For starters, it was nice to clear up what states were officially considered “southwest.” Oklahoma and Texas were not part of my travel plans despite being part of the region.
The second detail I appreciated was the variety of topics covered by Ms Gagne. According to the index, the major topics were: history, nature (plants, animals, landscape, weather), industry, and people. I focused primarily on plants (chitalpa, desert spoon, prickly pear, sagebrush and tumbleweeds).
The third and final detail I appreciated was the photography. The front cover is the most stunning.

Book trivia: this is part of the Exploring America’s Regions series.


Tragic Honesty

Bailey, Blake. A Tragic Honesty: the Life and Work of Richard Yates. New York: Picador, 2003.

Reason read: Yates was born in February. Read in his honor.

Does anyone remember the silent film star Louise Brooks? I didn’t know a thing about her until Natalie Merchant wrote a the biographical song, Lulu. I imagine Richard Yates’s life was viewed much the same way. A good handful of people (myself included) probably didn’t know his work until Blake Bailey wrote about his tragic life.
And what a tragedy it was. Yates was an extremely intelligent man plague with insecurities that were held at bay only by a beautiful dame or a tall drink. Sadly, Yates was addicted to both and the uncontrollable addiction to the latter drove away the even the most devoted former. Underneath it all Yates was a devoted father, a talented writer, and a lost soul. I will look forward to reading Easter Parade.
Be forewarned: there came a point in the narrative when I felt there was nothing more to Yates’s biography than loneliness, illness, loneliness, alcoholism and more loneliness. Starting around the 1970s Bailey churned out episode after drunken episode of alcoholic excess peppered with mental illness and trips to the psych ward. Truly depressing stuff…especially as Yates grew weaker and weaker and more pathetic.

I wasn’t a fan of the footnote on nearly every other page method. I realize Bailey wanted to expound on details in a more personal voice and chose to do so at the bottom of the page but to me the practice was the equivalent of someone next to you whispering commentary while you are trying to watch a movie. The quips and comments are interesting but disruptive to the main narrative.

Confessional: I think it is most difficult to read a biography when you are completely unfamiliar with the subject. I have Yates on my Challenge list (of course I do), but I haven’t read him yet. I have to admit I am worried about how much knowing Yates’s personal life will color my opinion of his craft. But, from everything I have read I needn’t worry. Yates wrote autobiographically 97% of the time.
As an in-the-weeds aside, I wonder if a college writing teacher ever accused Yates of being “slickly professional” the first time he was able to articulate close-to-the-bone “fiction.” Before you ask, yes, this happened to me when I finally steered away from pure imagination and put real-life experience on paper. I found myself marching into a professor’s office, hand clutching my Somebody in tow…

Quote to quote just for the imagery, “Sometimes the hacking and vomiting would go on for hours before his lungs were clear enough to light a cigarette and get on with his work” (p 182).

Author fact: Bailey is better known for his biographies of Cheever.

Book trivia: There is a great clump of black and white photos included in A Tragic Honesty. I especially like the picture of Yates and Martha being interviewed. There is something endearing about them together.

Nancy said: Pearl hopes A Tragic Honesty will “revive interest in Yates’s spare and crystalline prose” (More Book Lust p 145). To a point, Pearl is right. I looked forward to reading Easter Parade more so because of Bailey’s biography.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Literary Lives: the Americans (p 144).


March to a Different Drummer

I will make a return to racing in two weeks. My last public run was in July. I’m not ready. Simply not. March is also two Natalie Merchant concerts. A return to my favorite voice. Here are the books:

Fiction:

  • Monkey’s Raincoat by Robert Crais – in honor of March being a rainy month. Dumb, I know.
  • Topper by Thorne Smith – in honor of Smith’s birth month being in March.
  • Giant by Edna Ferber – in honor of Texas becoming a state in March.

Nonfiction

  • Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam – in honor of March being the month the U.S. finally pulled out of Vietnam.
  • Cherry: a Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard by Sara Wheeler in honor of March being the month Apsley ended his depot journey.

Series Continuation:

  • Gemini by Dorothy Dunnett – to finally finish the series started in August in honor of Dunnett’s birth month.
  • Blackout by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza – to finish the series started in February in honor of the Carnival festival in Brazil.
  • Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov – to continue the series started in honor of Asimov’s birth month.
  • The Moor by Laurie R. King – to continue the series started in January in honor of Mystery Month.

For fun:

  • Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver – still reading
  • Sharp by Michelle Dean – still reading
  • Calypso by David Sedaris – needed for the Portland Public Library reading challenge.
  • Living with the Little Devil Man by Lina Lisetta – written by a faculty member.
  • Hidden Southwest edited by Ray Riegert – for my May trip.
  • 1,000 Places to See Before You Die by Patricia Schultz – for my May trip…and the 2020 Italy trip.

Following February

What to say about this month? It was epic in a myriad of ways. First and foremost, I turned half a century old. I don’t mind the number; I am not bothered by the age. Never the less, friends and family gathered for a party to remember. And. And! And, I re-upped my commitment to running. It’s been slow but I have to admit something here – my breathing has been effed up. I have a scheduled appointment for early March so…I continue to read.

Here are the books:

Fiction:

  • Take This Man by Frederick Busch. (EB & print)
  • Good Night Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning by Alice Walker. (EB)
  • Crossers by Philip Caputo. (EB and print)
  • Alone in the Crowd by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza. (EB and print)

Nonfiction:

  • Tragic Honesty by Blake Bailey. (print only)
  • Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner. (AB, EB and print)

Series Continuations:

  • A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King. (EB and print)
  • Caprice and Rondo by Dorothy Dunnett. (print)
  • Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov. (EB)
  • A Fine and Bitter Snow by Dana Stabenow. (EB and print)

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • How to be a Patient by Sana Goldberg.
  • Corregidora by Gayl Jones (reread).

For fun:

  • Exploring the Southwest by Tammy Gagne.
  • Calypso by David Sedaris (started).
  • Sharp by Michelle Dean (continuing)
  • Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (continuing)

Beak of the Finch

Weiner, Jonathan. The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time. Read by John McDonough. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2017.

Weiner, Jonathan. The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.

Reason read: February is Feed the Birds Month.

Islands are the perfect laboratory for studying a species. In the case of the Galapagos archipelago, the islands are isolated like a fortress; no one can easily arrive or depart. Princeton University biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant, along with their daughters, take a small group of scientists to help them investigate Darwin’s finches. By the beak of the finch they are able to track an evolutionary journey through time. Beak of the Finch is an extraordinary account of survival of the fittest as it happened then; as it is happening right now. Our world is constantly evolving and adapting and we aren’t done yet.
Word to the wise – listen to this on audio. John McDonough does a fantastic job. Weiner’s writing may be approachable science, but McDonough’s reading makes it all the more enjoyable.
As an aside, I love books I like to describe as “rabbit holes.” They take me to knowledge I never would have learned otherwise. I think people describe the internet that way sometimes. In this case, I learned that when a finch is ready to mate its beak turns black. Who knew? Also, at one point Weiner was describing the weather and mentioned El Nino which in turn made me wonder about the name El Nino. I had never really thought about its origin before. Turns out, El Nino means “the child” in Spanish and the storms are named as such because they tended to arrive around Christmastime.

Author fact: Weiner also wrote Time, Love, Memory: a Great Biologist and His Quest for the Origin of Behavior (which I have already read) and His Brother’s Keeper: a Story from the Edge of Medicine, also on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: Beak of the Finch won a Pulitzer. Another piece of trivia is that Beak of the Finch is full of great illustrations like the one of the iguana on page 104.

Nancy said: In Book Lust Pearl describes the plot to Beak of the Finch. In More Book Lust she has a whole chapter (of only three books) dedicated to Weiner and says specifically of Beak of the Finch, “about evolutionary biology as played out on an island in the Galapagos” (More Book Lust p 233). Finally, in Book Lust To Go Pearl says Beak of the Finch is “wonderfully written, extremely readable, and a superb example of the best kind of popular science writing” (Book Lust To Go p 88).

BookLust Twist: Nancy loves this book. It is indexed in all three Lust books: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Bird Brains” (p 39), in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Jonathan Weiner: Too Good to Miss” (p 233) and again in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Galloping Through the Galapagos” (p 88).