Morris, Jan. A Writer’s House in Wales. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2002.
Reason read: for the Portland Public Library 2020 Reading challenge. I needed a book for the category of transgender or nonbinary author. Jan was James until the 1970s. I love how Morris makes mention of her transition and how the Welsh have “kindly pretended that nothing ever happened” (p 59). The way it should be.
Everyone loves a funky house. Trefan Morys is as unique as they get: imagine a converted old stone barn with wood beams and a slate roof. Now imagine this: the horse stalls converted into two rooms, both being floor to ceiling libraries (because “the Internet is no substitute” for a good book). Model ships, strategically scattered everywhere. More books piled on the floor. I picture this house being cozy yet drafty with its upstairs view of the wild Irish sea; cozy yet sprawling with all of its secret nooks and crannies.
Confessional: I grew up surrounded by houses with charming names. Not the last names of owners, but fanciful [names] such as Treetops, Fairhaven, and Inkspot. Trefan Morys as the name of Morris’s house in Wales seems perfect.
Morris’s focus is not just on her house, but on her country’s people as well. She speaks of geographic history and how Indigenous Wales continues to struggle to keep an identity in the face of a barrage of British influence.
The hidden bonus is learning more about Morris as a person and not just a Welsh author who changed gender. She has a sense of humor. She has a partner who has stuck with her throughout it all. She is fearless: Morris is not one to back down from a challenge, climbing Everest to write about Edmund Hillary’s ascent, for example. Then there’s Ibsen, the cat. It’s all so charming.
There were so many lines I liked. It was extremely hard to narrow it down to just a few, but here are the ones I connected with the most: “I always think of music as means of communication across the continents and the ages” (p 97), “Music also seems to me one of life’s great reconcilers, an instrument of universal good” (p 98),
Author fact: Morris had a cat named Ibsen. Perfect. But…I should also tell you Morris is better known as a historian. The Pax Trilogy is also on my list.
Book trivia: I would have loved to see photographs of Trefan Morys. It just sounds like the perfect house. I did find a picture in a recent edition of ‘The Guardian’ and it only left me wanting more.
Nancy said: Pearl said A Writer’s House in Wales is “distinguished by [Morris’s] keen eye for detail, her fine writing, and her enthusiasm for her subject” (Book Lust To Go p 248).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Wales Welcomes You” (p 248).
Gunaratana, Bhante Henepola. Mindfulness in Plain English. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2002.
Reason read: During these crazy times I need to remember to breath; to be still. Read for me, myself, and moi.
The title of this book does not lie. Gunaratana offers a how-to for insight mindfulness in a straight-forward and easy-to-understand language. This is not the deeply didactic philosophy of mindfulness, but rather a deep dive into South and Southeast Asian Buddhism. The first order of business is to dispel the misconceptions surrounding mindfulness and meditation. For example, there is no magic to this vipassana style medication. You won’t levitate. Instead, you become grounded in morality, concentration, and wisdom. Speaking of concentration, you learn the concept of shallow concentration which seems contrary to successful mindfulness. In other words, you won’t lose yourself in mindfulness. Instead, you will train your mind to concentrate on a mental object, the breath being more convenient and ever-present. I am reminded of one of my favorite Natalie Merchant lyric from ‘Not in This Life,’ “Lately I’ve been satisfied by simple things like breathing in and breathing out.” Despite the easy language and thin volume, Mindfulness is a treasure trove of information.
As an aside, I have to laugh when Gunaratana advised not to sit in any one position for more than twenty minutes. Please! I can’t sit comfortably in any position for more than five, maybe ten minutes tops.
Quotes I loved, “Life seems a perpetual struggle, an enormous effort against staggering odds” (p 9), “What we face every day is unpredictable” (p 53), “Distraction cannot be seen as distraction unless there is some central focus to be distracted from” ( 77), and “Somewhere in the process, you will come face to face with the sudden and shocking realization that you are completely crazy” (p 82). Amen.
Author fact: Gunaratana was ordained as a monk at the age of twelve. Twelve! I shudder to think what I was doing at the age of twelve.
Book trivia: I can tell this book helped many people. My copy was dog-eared and heavily underlined.
Nancy said: Pearl said there was useful information in Mindfulness in Plain English. She goes on to say “Gunaratana’s book is much less theoretical, vis-a-vis Buddhist philosophy and psychology…but more practical and systematic in its presentation of technique” (Book Lust p 255).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Zen Buddhism and Meditation” (p 255).
Scanlin, Tommye McClure. The Nature of Things: Essays of a Tapestry Weaver. Dahlonega, Georgia: University of North Georgia Press, 2020.
Reason read: as part of the Early Review program for LibraryThing.
I chose this book because I want more art and, by default, more artists in my life. I know absolutely nothing of weaving, how to or otherwise, so I suspect I read this differently than say, someone who makes his or her living by weaving tapestries. I read this simply as an admirer of a beautiful textile.
Scanlin calls her book a collection of essays, but I prefer to think of it as a memoir: the emergence of an extremely talented artist. Told mostly through the lens of photography and illustrations, Nature of Things explodes with color and creativity. Remove the visuals and the early narrative would probably not survive.
The final part of the book moves away from memoir and becomes a primer for learning the basics of weaving, complete with a glossary, clear diagrams, and a list of resources.
As an aside, I was surprised by how much I had in common with Scanlin. what inspired her in Nature of Things are the very same things that catch my attention: trees, crows, rocks, shadows, flowers, feathers, ferns, even the fine winding tendrils of vines.
Note: According to the back cover of Nature of Things, it has been on sale for well over a month now. I received my copy on October 29th, 2020.
Macaulay, David. Cathedral. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2002.
Reason read: I just finished a walking tour on iFit. The trainer took me around Croatia and explained the architecture. It got me interested in learning more about the structure of cathedrals.
Originally published in black and white, Macaulay thought color might bring Cathedral to a new height. He was right. The story of how a cathedral is built is clear and concise. Even though the Chutreaux cathedral in Macaulay’s story is fictional, the meticulously detailed diagrams used to build the medieval structure, are not. This book will make you look at these impossibly beautiful buildings in a completely new way. Yes, everyone knows cathedrals were built as houses of the lord, to praise and thank a certain god, but the messages hidden in the architecture are wonderful. For example, every window tells a different specific story. What is most amazing is how long it took to build Macaulay’s fictional cathedral. It is easy to forget what a massive undertaking construction was during the thirteenth century. The roof alone wasn’t finished for nine years and in that time the original master builder and Bishop Chutreaux both die and are replaced approximately at the same time. They never see the fruits of their labor.
As an aside, I loved the illustrations. The cat on page 44 is great.
Author fact: Macaulay drew the illustrations for Cathedral.
Book trivia: Cathedral was written for children but is great for adults as well. I read somewhere that Cathedral was also made into a movie? I need to look that up!
Nancy said: Pearl calls Macaulay’s books “wonderful,” “useful,” “entertaining,” and goes on to say Macaulay is “particularly good at explaining various technical terms” (More Book Lust p 38).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Building Blocks” (p 38).
Boyden, Amanda. I Got the Dog. New Orleans: Lavender Ink, 2020.
Reason read: an Early Review from LibraryThing.
At turns Boyden is tender and sweet, sassy and sarcastic, funny and melancholy. There is heartache and humor underneath the solid layer of honesty. She twists and turns from childhood memories to adult turmoil with as much ease as I imagine she does swinging on her beloved trapeze. I loved her fierce attitude. It’s a bit rambling in places. You get the general idea she is heartbroken over her divorce, but at the same time celebrates breaking free while remembering seemingly unrelated bits of her past.
As an aside, who else Google Arcade Fire’s performance at Jazz Fest to find Boyden (and friends) dancing on stage in paper mache bobble heads? All I could picture was Natalie Merchant swaying under the weight of a ginormous puppet head as she sang “You Happy Puppet” on July 4th, 1989. Performance art at its best.
Here’s the strange thing – out of all the Early Review books, this is one of my favorites. For some reason I have a hard time articulating why.
Forgrave, Reid. Love, Zac: Small-Twon Football and the Life and Death of an American Boy. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2020.
Reason read: as a member of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing, I was asked to read and review Love, Zac.
The entire time I was reading Love, Zac I was asking myself why this book wasn’t written sooner. It is not Forgrave’s fault for coming to the table with Zac’s story after the fact; when it was too late to save Zac himself. I believe this is the kind of book that could save lives if the right people read it at the right time and read it the right way. Don’t look at it as one kid’s story; one instance of a brain injury gone wrong. Don’t diminish the damage by arguing Zac didn’t even play football in college. Read it for what it is, a plaintive cry, a demand to take a harder look at a hard hitting sport. There is no denying the fact an epidemic of football-induced concussions ruin lives long after the game is over. Forgrave writes in a manner that is straight to the heart; a punch to the gut.
Love, Zac was advertised as a book every parent should read. I am not a parent. I am not a coach. But, here is the irony. I sit with Love, Zac on my knees while my husband shouts “hit ’em!” at the television. Opening day of the NFL’s 2020 season in a pandemic.
Woodard, Colin. Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators, and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier. New York: Viking, 2004.
Reason read: the Lobster Festival is usually held the first week in August in Rockland, Maine. Kisa and I had the pleasure of attending the festival the same year Zoe was selling her calendar. To add to the personal element of this, Zoe and I attended the same school.
To live in Maine is to subscribe and ultimately surrender to a certain way of life. It is a proud life; an independent life. Take no grief from anyone and never ask for help. As they like to say, Mainers have grit.
Woodard is redundant in places and seems to skip around some, but for the most part his book, Lobster Coast is well researched and is an accurate portrayal of a way of life. It is a thoroughly engaging historical look back at Maine’s fierce independence. From the very beginning there has been a strong distrust of strangers, well entrenched prejudices against “newcomers” and non-natives.
Confessional: It is weird to read about my community, as in the physical place and the actual people who call Monhegan home. I read the first chapter of Lobster Coast with a smirk brought on by bias. Most of the names mentioned have been in my life since I first arrived on Monhegan as a five year old child. I know much of what Woodard speaks of intimately. The places haven’t changed much. Monhegan House, Black Duck, Shining Sails, the Museum, just to name a few. And the people…! I won’t name names but someone gave me a spanking right there on Fish Beach when they caught me and my best friend trying to start a bonfire. I think I was six. Someone else tried to teach me gymnastics, and (at the tender age of ten), all I could do was stare at the dark and curly pubic hairs escaping from her too-tight leotard. Someone else handed me my first beer…
Author fact: Woodard has contributed to The Chronicle of Higher Education and was born and raised in Maine.
Book trivia: Sadly, there are no photographs in Lobster Coast.
Nancy said: Pearl named Lobster Coast as one “reader-friendly micro-histories of the lobster industry” (Book Lust To Go p 136). I would say it is more of a history of the state of Maine, with a focus on lobstering.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “The Maine Chance” (p 135).
Skelton, Helen. Wild Girl: How to Have Incredible Outdoor Adventures.
Reason read: as part of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing, this was the July pick.
The premise of Wild Girl is to inspire young women (or more accurately, young girls) to get outside and have grand adventures. The subtitle would have you believe this is a guide to teach girls exactly that, how to have those big adventures albeit on a much smaller scale than Skelton’s. (Make sure to ask your parents, she advises.) Upon closer inspection, Wild Girl reminded me of FaceBook in brag book form. It seems to be more of an illustrated memoir about Ms. Skelton’s own epic experiences, complete with several smiling photos in every chapter. There is no doubt she is an A type woman: athletic, attractive, adventurous, amusing, ambition, and without a doubt, aspiring. For every chapter (focused on a single event across the globe) there are eighteen to twenty pages dedicated to Skelton: where she went (South Pole, for example), what sport she performed (snowboard, kite skiing, snow biking), how long she was gone, the temperatures and weather she experienced in each region, what she packed for gear, how she prepared and/or trained, a snippet of a diary, really cute illustrations, and last but not least, several photographs of her performing her wild adventure. Only two pages are reserved for giving girls ideas or advice about how to have their own “epic” adventure (like having a snowball fight). The subtitle should have been how to inspire incredible outdoor adventures. Dream big! If I can do it, you can too!
Confessional: The coolest part of Skelton’s book is the two pages in each chapter dedicated to women who made names for themselves doing similar adventures. They get a mini biography and an illustration of their likeness.
Book trivia: There are well over fifty photographs of Helen in this slim book. The final printing will have them all in color! Very cool.
Johnson, Kristie Robin. High Cotton: Essays. Clearwater, Florida: Raised Voices, 2020.
Reason read: as part of the Early Review program for LibraryThing, this was the July 2020 selection.
While Johnson’s book is categorized as a collection of essays, her crystal clear voice trills bright honesty and makes this a captivating memoir on multiple levels: what it means to be an African American woman in the volatile twenty-first century (in addition to being the sixth generation of a family who can be trace their ancestral past to slavery in Deep South Georgia). Adding to the cultural, economic, and societal battles, Johnson is a woman with personal strife: family addictions, histories of abuse, teenage pregnancy, and ever-constant poverty. How does one explain a manicure while buying food on welfare? Why does one even need to explain? There, in a succinct nutshell, is reality of millions. Other realities include the ever-constant reminder that racism and gender bias are alive and well in our country.
My only complaint? Because the essays were so autobiographical in nature I wanted more structure in the way of chronology.
Confessional: I read On Being Human by Jennifer Pastiloff at the same time and I have to admit, their stories were so similar that I would sometimes confuse the two.
Confessional two: No. More of a question: why does one have to be a rape “victim” in order to acknowledge the bravery of an accuser coming forward? Better yet, why would acknowledging the bravery of Cosby’s accusers force one to “unearth” one’s uncomfortable truth? Couldn’t Kristie stand on the side of women who allege they fell prey to a man of wealth and power (regardless of their (or her) skin color)?
Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac: and sketches Here and There. Read by Cassandra Campbell. New York: Penguin Audio, 2020.
Reason read: Turtleback Zoo opened in the month of June. Read to honor a place that I used to love to visit. This zoo always treated their animals with such care. It has been years since I lasted visited. It could be completely different now.
There are certain books in the world you can’t help but try to read all in one sitting. They draw you in and you can’t find your way out of the pages until you reach the final words of The and End. A Sand County Almanac is one such book, especially as an audio read by Cassandra Campbell. Hour after hour would rush by as I got lost in Aldo’s world. I could hear the calling of the birds in the fields, the rattle of dried leaves in the oak trees signifying winter is on its way, and the gurgling rush of the stream as it stubbed its toes on rocks worn smooth. Leopold’s observations were so warm I couldn’t help but think if he were alive today, he and Josh Ritter would be friends.
Author fact: Leopold smoked. Okay, so it’s not the most enlightening fact, but it shocked me nonetheless. I like my naturalists without vices.
Book trivia: Barbara Kingsolver wrote the introduction to Sand County Almanac.
Nancy said: Pearl called A Sand County Almanac a “beautifully written classic.” Another interesting point. Pearl points out a section I found particularly intriguing. As Leopold saws through a fallen oak on his property he recounts historical moments the tress has lived through, ring by ring. Pearl called this section “transcendent” and I couldn’t agree more.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 500s ” (p 70).
Durrell, Gerald. Garden of the Gods. New York: Penguin books, 1978.
Reason read: to “finish” the series started in May. Finish is in quotes because there are more books in the series, but I am not reading them for the Challenge.
Durrell has again dug back into his childhood and the four year stint on the Greek island of Corfu for the next installment of his memoir series. This time sister Margo’s relationships and brother Leslie’s gun obsession take more of a center stage but don’t worry, Gerald’s “pets” still abound. He still has plenty of stories regarding the mishaps involving animals. Another constant is all of the Durrell children continue to lie to mother and she continues to eat it up, no questions asked, just like one of Gerald’s baby birds.
I have to wonder if the family was as fun loving and accepting of the practical jokes and antics as they seem to be? What kind of household welcomes perfect strangers into their home as guests? Especially ones with no intention of leaving? And speaking of guests, what mother would put up with dead birds falling at her feet while she tried to entertain a prominent guest?
All in all, exaggerated antics aside, Garden of the Gods is a charming and funny book.
Best quote, “My first fear was that my beautiful horns might be broken, my second, that my brother might be dead” (p 527).
Author fact: the internet is littered with a myriad of pictures of Durrell. He looks more comfortable with his animal friends than the humans.
Book trivia: the American version of Garden of the Gods was published as Fauna and Family in 1978.
Nancy said: Pearl wasn’t as enamored with Garden of the Gods as Durrell’s first book. The sequel is “not up to the joyful perfection of the first book” (Book Lust To Go, p 70), but she does admit that it is humorous.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the simple chapter called “Corfu” (p 70).
Terkel, Studs. “The Good War”: an Oral History of World War Two. New York: Partheon Books, 1984
Reason read: I am taking a full two months to the “The Good War.” Victory Day is May 9th and D-Day is June 6th.
The best way to read “The Good War” is to sit down with a cup of coffee and envision a WWII vet sitting across from you. He has a faraway look in his eyes and a slight tremor in his hands as he remembers best a single event that most likely changed his life forever. But, don’t stop there. Now sitting across from you could be a businessman, a nurse, a dress maker, a dancer, a man who was just a child during the war and thought the battlefield was place of adventure. you might imagine someone who survived a prison camp, or a conscientious objector, or a young boy who thought enlisting would be a chance to prove himself…Terkel interviewed people from all walks of life. Each story is unique and yet, yet hauntingly similar. You hear of young men losing their sense of humanity in the face of unimaginable cruelty: a man remembers watching his comrade in arms throw pebbles into the open skull of a dead Japanese soldier; the smell of cooking cats. Other young men speak of hiding their sexual orientation while trying to appear manly enough for battle (Ted Allenby’s story reminded me of Ryan O’Callaghan a great deal). But, you also hear from the women: wives and girlfriends left behind, Red Cross nurses on the front lines, even singers sent to entertain the troops. It is easy to see why this stunning nonfiction won a Pulitzer.
Quotes to quote, “No matter what the official edict, for millions of American women home would never be again a Doll’s House” (p 10), and “I got on the stick and wrote the President again” (p 21), and “Must a society experience horror in order to understand horror?” (p 14).
Author fact: Studs’s real name was Louis.
Book trivia: “The Good War” won a Pulitzer for nonfiction in 1985.
Nancy said: Pearl said you could never do better than Terkel’s “The Good War” for an oral history. Agreed.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “World War Two Nonfiction” (p 254).
Abramsky, Sasha. Little Wonder: the Fabulous Story of Lottie Dod, the World’s First Female Superstar. Brooklyn, New York: Akashic Books, 2020.
Reason read: as a member of LibraryThing, I was chosen to review this for the Early Review program.
Charlotte Dod. If you don’t know her name, you don’t know the history of women in sports. Don’t feel bad though. Despite being a multitalented athlete, her fame as a star burned bright in many arenas, but faded from all of them just as quickly. First known as a tennis sensation at the age of fourteen, Lottie (as she was known), only played competitively for five years. In that time she became the doyenne of tennis, winning five Wimbledons. The only years she didn’t win she didn’t even compete. Sadly, it was as if she grew tired of smashing the competition and needed new thrills. She left the sport…at twenty one years of age. After tennis, Dod set her sights on field hockey. She helped pioneer the sport for women. Then came skating. Obsessively training for hours on end, Dod was not only able to pass the rigorous women’s skating test, she passed the much more difficult men’s test as well. When she was done with ice skates and cold weather , she moved on to golf and mountaineering and archery and Voluntary Aid Detachment nursing and choral singing. She climbed mountains in support of women seeking equal rights and won a silver medal for archery at the 1908 summer Olympic games.
While Abramsky does a great job detailing Lottie’s life, he has to fill in the gaps with speculation because sadly, much of her correspondence was lost or deliberately destroyed. Expect words like “maybe” and “perhaps” and “might.” The photographs are fantastic.
Arabella Garrett Anderson, Agatha Christie, Emmeline Pankhurst, and Nelly Bly were contemporaries of Dod’s.
Shapiro, Laura. Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century. New York: North Point Press, 1986.
Reason read: June is the month we usually migrate to the CSA and our farm of choice, Mountain View. I’m also reading this as part of the Portland Public Library reading challenge.
This was a great read on so many levels. Laura Shapiro writes with an easy and often humorous style. If you are interested in the science behind cooking; the chemical process of cooking food or the biological process of digestion; how arithmetic factors into cooking. How about the study of bacteria, whether it be from the germy dishcloth or the garbage can? Domestic “scientists” were determined to improve diets through science and chemistry.
Cooking because the great equalizer at the turn of the century. the interest in learning to cook was as such that in shops cooking was done in the open so that customers could witness both ingredients and preparation (the birth of the cooking show?).
From a feminist angle, it was great to read about so many women “firsts.” For example, Ellen Richards as the first woman admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Even though she was considered a “special student” she broke the male-only barrier in 1870.
My favorite invention from this time period was the “Aladdin Oven” – a portable stove the size of a dinner pail that would cook a meal all day long. The first slow cooker!
Author fact: Shapiro has two books listed in More Book Lust. The second book, Something From the Oven is on my list to be read in a few years.
Nancy said: Pearl called Perfection Salad “entertaining and informative” and promised readers it would “change the way you look at food and its preparation” (More Book Lust p 73).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed 600s” (p 71).
Duke, Kim. A Fine Mess. Plymouth, MI: BHC Press, 2020.
Reason read: as part of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing I was selected to read and review Duke’s book.
The first word that comes to mind when reading A Fine Mess is chameleon. Depending on your mood, this book could be seen as trivial happy horse you-know-what or,if you are in a good mood, poignant and heartwarming. The good news is Duke acknowledges that in the title by calling A Fine Mess “little” and “odd.” Okay, so it is a lot odd at times.
Depending on your mood, you could see the colorful illustrations and photography as evocative and capable of inspiring heartfelt emotion. On another day you could be annoyed by the self-help journaling pages; declaring A Fine Mess as helpful as the pseudo-psychological quizzes you find in the pages of Cosmopolitan magazine. How Happy Are You? Take This Test To Find Out!
Depending on your mood, you could question what making fun of a sculpture has to do with breast cancer. You could question why Duke doesn’t bemoan the loss of hair or appetite or secure body image. On another day you could applaud her ability to make connections to before cancer and after cancer and her courageous ability to make sense of the randomness of the disease.
Depending on your mood, A Fine Mess could be a humorous gift to give a struggling friend or your worst enemy.
Either way, one thing is for certain. It will take you all of ten minutes to read. Whether you go back and read it again is entirely dependent on your mood.
As an aside, I want to ask Duke if her statement about hope was intentionally similar to the Emily Dickinson poem. That seemed a little coy, even if it was a play on words.