Milosz, Czeslaw. To Begin Where I am: Selected Essays. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2001.
Reason read: for the Portland Reading Challenge I needed a book from an Eastern European author.
I read To Begin Where I Am in stages.
Part One: These Guests
Part Two: On the Side of Man
Part Three: Against Incomprehensible Poetry
Part Four: In Constant Amazement
Czeslaw makes me question the meaning of history. I struggle with what becomes history and what is lost when memory fades. I guess it is a similar theory with stuff. What becomes a rare antique versus junk? The balance of life is all about contradictions and opposites. The history that flavored Milosz’s prose is World War II, the Holocaust, and exile.
The more enjoyable fragments of memory include traveling during spring break after law exams, being in nature, and the poignant portraits of his friends, mixed with descriptions of their political ideals.
As an aside, when when I was reading about the things that amazed Czeslaw I was reminded of when Kisa and I got married. We asked people to read and write something for the ceremony. My uncle stood up and talked about how different things amazed him. He mentioned cars and trees. I am pretty sure he was trying to say that the fact I found someone to marry was one of those “amazing” things.
Quotes to quote, “To kill a superphysical hunger, the best thing in a hike” (p 60), “True, from time to time one of us dropped out, shipped off to a concentration camp or shot” (p 121), “Identity crisis are thresholds in everyone’s life on which we can smash ourselves to pieces” (p 174),
Author fact: Milosz won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Milosz also wrote Issa Valley, which is on my Challenge list, and the Captive Mind, which is not.
Book trivia: Milosz’s essays range from a single page to over one hundred pages.
Nancy said: Pearl said To Begin Where I Am is an “entrée into the mind of an extraordinary thoughtful thinker” (Book Lust p 187).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Polish Poems and Prose” (p 187).
Estleman, Loren D. Thunder City: a Novel of Detroit. Tom Doherty Associates, 1999.
Reason read: to finally finish the series started in January in honor of Michigan becoming a state.
Once again Estleman takes a look at the history and controversies of the automobile industry and the lure and mystique of it’s counterpart, organized crime. It was interesting to think of the people in the streetcar business prepping for the advent of cars and Ford’s competitors who looked to bring him down on the basis of a broken moral compass. Even more interesting was the advent of the iconic Ford logo. The revolving door of characters will make your head spin if you let them. I was compelled to keep notes on all of them although it didn’t help. James Aloysius Dolan (aka Jimmy, Big Jim, Boss Dolan, Honorable James A. Dolan, Diamond Jim, Irish Pope, or Himself depending on who you ask) was my favorite character. Wealthy, knows Yiddish, fat and Irish, James has held the titles of Railway Commissioner and chairman of State Democratic Party. He is married with children and has a manservant named Noche. He’s an all around shady guy, but I liked him.
A note on the Novel of Detroit series: I read the books in the order in which they were written, but to get a sense of chronology they should be read differently. Start with Thunder City (1900-1910), then move on to Whiskey River (1928 – 1939), Jitterbug (1943), Edsel (1951 – 1959), Motown (1966), Stress (1973) and end with King of the Corner (1990).
Definition of a marriage: “Dolan had forbidden her to modernize her appearance, and she had decided to allow him to” (p 15).
Author fact: Estleman wrote a bunch of novels beyond the Detroit series. I am only reading one other book, Sugartown (book 5 of the Amos Walker series).
Book trivia: Thunder City is the last book I am reading for the Detroit Series.
Playlist: Caruso, “Star Spangled Banner”, “Tenting Tonight on the Old Campground” and “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean”.
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Thunder City.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Big Ten Country: the Literary Midwest, Michigan” (p 26).
Patton, Natalie Toon. Wanderlost: Falling From Grace and Finding Mercy in All the Wrong Places. Paraclete Press, 2022.
Reason read: As a reviewer for LibraryThing’s Early Review Program, I was chosen to read Wanderlost.
Confessional number one: I couldn’t help but think of Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love the entire time I was reading Wanderlost. In a nutshell: Woman goes through difficult divorce. In order to heal she needs a spiritual overhaul and so travels as far away from her American life as her wallet can handle. Woman finds love and comes to find home in her heart. The end. Both women are funny and a tiny bit scandalous. Both have a deep understanding of religion, history and culture. Both develop friendships and relationships which sustain them and even mature them. One might complain about the heavy emphasis of religion in Wanderlost, but all signs point to this being about faith, losing and gaining it: the church on the cover, the religious publishing company that made Wanderlost possible, and Toon’s own description of the book, “once-golden girl finds herself kicked out of church…” From all of these clues one might perceive a religious theme. Confession number two: when Patton dives into the subject of religion, her tone turns didactic. she loses the personal (and humorous) voice and becomes a lecturer.
Confessional: because I am not deeply religious, I couldn’t understand why Patton’s mom could get a divorce and not be rejected by her church. Dad smoked pot before it was acceptably legal. How did Natalie’s church of choice not care about these transgressions?
Another confessional: I couldn’t decide if I liked the use of brand names. While it lent an authenticity to time and place, it alienated me when I wasn’t familiar with the product.
Author fact: Patton has a cat named Genghis Khan, according to the back cover of Wanderlost.
Book trivia: every chapter is a title of a song but not every song gets credit.
Playlist: “Amazing Grace”, Bad Company, the Beatles’ “Let It Be”, Brandi Carlile’s “the Story”, Billy Idol’s “Dancing with Myself”, Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”, Cat Steven’s “Moon Shadow” and “Morning Has Broken”, “C’est La Vie”, “Don’t Stop Believin'”, “Daylight and Darkness”, Diana Ross, Dolly Parton’s “Nine to Five”, Emmy Lou Harris, Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind”, “Fairest Lord Jesus”, Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days are Over”, Gilberto Gil, Grateful Dead’s “Fire on the Mountain”, AURORA’s “Into the Unknown”, Hootie’s “Hold My Hand”, “Hark! The Heralds Sing”, “I Came to the Garden Alone”, “In a World of My won”, “Jingle Bells”, Joni Mitchell’s “River”, John Denver’s “Country Roads”, Marisa Monte, “Mary Did You Know?”, Nora Jones’s “Don’t Know Why”, “On the Road Again”, Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”, “Roll another Number”, “Strangers in the Night”, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”, Tom Jobin, U2, “Wayfaring Stranger”, and “Who’ll Stop the Rain”,
Petterson, Per. To Siberia. Translated by Anne Born. Havrill Press, 1998.
Reason read: July is the warmest month in Siberia.
Told from the perspective of an unnamed woman looking back on her teenage years in Norway, Petterson gracefully captures the bond between brother and sister as they navigate the suicide of their grandfather, neglect of their parents, corruption of their uncle, and the coming of Germans to their doorstep in the early years of World War II. Petterson’s descriptive language had me remembering my own adolescence: nights when it was so pitch-black dark I couldn’t see hand in front of my face. I remember waiting for the sweeping beam from the lighthouse before dashing ahead a few yards, only to stop and wait for the light again. Such is the fog that rolled off the Norwegian harbor, obscuring residents’ view.
As I have often said before, I have trouble with translations. Like this line, for example: “One day my road is suddenly blocked and the train trapped in a wall of Bibles” (p 54-55). Does someone want to explain that one to me? The protagonist has been talking about becoming a missionary and traveling to far off countries. Does she mean that religion dashed her dreams?
To Siberia was so haunting. The language is sparse, but the unknown protagonist’s love and unwavering devotion to her brother, even when he disappears in Morocco, is beautiful.
Author fact: Petterson was a bookseller in Norway before becoming a writer himself.
Book trivia: In Siberia was published directly after Out Stealing Horses.
Nancy said: Pearl said if you liked Out Stealing Horses you should try To Siberia. She didn’t say anything specific about To Siberia.
BookLust Twist: this could have come from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Men Channeling Women, but it’s actually from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Norway: The Land of the Midnight Sun” (p 162). Both are not wrong.
Cadell, Elizabeth. Mrs. Westerby Changes Course. William Morrow & Company, Inc., 1968.
Reason read: July is Ice Cream Month. Ice cream makes most people happy. Mrs. Westerby Changes Course is supposed to be a feel-good book even though it is a little dark.
I think I would like Miss Gail Sinclair if I were to meet her as a real person. As a secretary for a London publishing company she exudes humor and vitality, even if her offer to chauffeur one of the publishing company’s newest author to a cottage in the English countryside turns more than a little crazy. Gail never dreamed she would find herself caught up in a dark drama; let alone come out of it with a budding romance. Recently widowed Mrs. Anita Stratton needs someone to accompany her to her former sister-in-law’s cottage. There, she hopes to collect her family’s heirloom furniture from her husband’s sister, Mrs. Westerby. It’s a strange situation. Widow owns the furniture. Deceased man’s sister owns the cottage. Keep in mind, this is in an era of ear trumpets and good graces. Polite decorum is a must, yet sister-in-law Mrs. Westerby is a loud and obnoxious individual who is always showing up wherever Gail and Mrs. Stratton seem to be. This is not how Gail knows her to be. Tagging behind Mrs. Westerby is her godson, Julian. Why does he need to keep an eye on Mrs. Westerby and why does she act so strange around Mrs. Stratton? The story gallops along so readers won’t have to wait too long to find out.
Author fact: Cadell has written a bunch of books. I am reading three for the Challenge: The Corner Shop, The Toy Sword, and of course, Mrs. Westerby Changes Course.
Book trivia: the cover art for Mrs. Westerby Changes Course combines humor and society. Cute doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Nancy said: Pearl called Cadell a writer of gentle reads.
Book Lust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Cozies” (p 50).
Sfar, Joann. The Rabbi’s Cat 2. Pantheon Books, 2008.
Reason read: to continue the series started in June in honor of cats.
At the end of The Rabbi’s Cat, the unnamed cat had lost the ability to be understood by humans. The affliction still remains in The Rabbi’s Cat 2. One might say Sfar’s message in The Rabbi’s Cat 2 is how to ask a question. How best do you respond to a growing hate? What is the best course of action to avoid or defuse it?
My favorite character, besides strong-willed Zlabya, was Malka of the Lions. He and his lion are traveling scammers. They travel from town to town saving villagers from the “ferocious” lion until one day the people are no longer afraid of the aging feline. Despite being elderly, Malka can still exude power. [When he delivers an open-handed slap to the mayor I was reminded me of Will Smith’s attack on Chris Rock at the Oscars.] The adventure doesn’t end there. There is this one snake who wants to bite someone. Anyone. Then the story takes an ominous turn when a seemingly dead Russian is found in a crate of books shipped to Zlabya’s husband.
Sfar attacks deeper subjects in The Rabbi’s Cat 2. The argument that art is forbidden; representation is prohibited: “Hey wait! You can kill each other after dinner. And in the meantime, we’d do well to talk quietly and see if it’s necessary” (p 102). Please do not miss Sfar’s subtle humor. The cat’s farts is hilarious.
The dedication right before “Part II Africa’s Jerusalem” made me think this section was intended to be a separate book.
And can we talk about the ending? It feels a little abrupt. I felt like it could have kept going.
Lines I loved, “A real friend tells you that your worries aren’t so bad, that you’ll be okay and you should make the most of each moment” (p 10) and “I love you because there has to be someone who loves you” (p 47). Couldn’t we all think that way?
Author fact: Sfar has written more Cat stories, but I am only reading two for the Challenge.
Nancy said: Pearl said if you are looking for a change of pace, read Sfar’s Cat books.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “North African Notes: Algeria” (p 158).
Yanagihara, Hanya. A Little Life. Penguin Random House, 2015.
Reason read: two reasons really. One, because I needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge in the category of “A book published in the last ten years [I] think will be a classic.” Two, because my sister sent this in the mail. If you know the book then you know it is over 800 pages. I can’t believe she mailed it to me. I (selfishly) would have waited until she was in town if the roles were reversed.
To be one hundred percent honest, A Little Life disturbed me though and through. While on the surface the story follows the lives of four college friends, they all have serious issues that border on all-out tragedy. Living in New York and trying to make a go of different careers, it is terrifying to watch their weaknesses chew them up and spit them out one by one. At the same time, there is something unnervingly beautiful about their friendships despite vastly different upbringings. At the center is Jude. Beautifully broken Jude. At times I wanted to hurl his story out the window in seething frustration. He doesn’t want to talk about his life. He is a mystery. He can’t talk about his parents of ethnic background for fear of betrayal. He can’t navigate stairs and needs an elevator. He cuts himself to the point of suicidal. He’s not white and doesn’t mention his childhood. He’s always in pain, wearing leg braces or using a wheelchair. His injury is not from an accident but something deliberate. He is a glutton for punishment beyond human sanity. He went to same law school as his friend Malcolm’s dad. He is the most beautiful of the group; and the most sly. He doesn’t like to be touched. Yet, he is a loyal-to-the-core friend. Like a many-layered onion, the reader peels back the mystery that is Jude. When you get to his core you’ll wish you hadn’t. The abuses he suffers are so numerous and varied; each one more horrifying than the next that you have to ask yourself, how much trauma can one soul take?
Jude’s loyal and loving friends:
Willem: He is always hungry. He is good looking but not as beautiful as Jude. He is from Wyoming and both of his parents are dead. He’s not a big drinker or drug user. He works in a restaurant and his brother, Hemming, is disabled. He’s also an actor who, in the beginning, gets mediocre parts. His fame is a source of wonderment.
J.B (Jean-Baptiste): Like Willem, he is always hungry. He lives in a loft in Little Italy and works as a receptionist. He fancies himself an artist that works with hair from a plastic bag. His mother pampers him ever since his father died. Internally, he competes with his peers. He is sleeping with Ezra and has an artist studio in Long Island City. He is the proverbial “I don’t have a drug problem” denying man. He can’t give up his college days. They all can’t.
Malcolm: He never finishes his Chinese takeout, but he always orders the same thing. He lives with his parents and has a sister named Flora. He is taking a class at Harvard.
Digging into the meaning of friendship there was one concept that had me rattled. The potential for friends to outgrow one another. I have experienced it and Dermot Kennedy wrote a whole song about it, but I don’t think anyone has written about it so eloquently as Yanagihara.
Here is another confessional: this took me ages and ages and ages to read. There is a lot going on with many, many characters. Like extras in a movie, these people don’t amount to much, but at the time they were introduced I couldn’t be sure. I wanted to commit every single one to memory, but the parade of people was dizzying: Andy, Annika, Adele, Ana, Avi, Alex, Ali, Charlie, Carolina, Caleb, Clement, Clara, Dean, David, Dominick, Ezra, Emma, Fina, Findlay, Gabriel, Gillian, Harold, Hera, Henry, Isidore, Jansz, Jason, Jackson, Joseph, Jacob, Julia, Kerrigan, Lawrence, Luke, Lionel, Liesl, Lucien, Laurence, Merrit, Massimo, Marisol, Meredith, Nathan, Oliver, Peter, Phaedra, Pavel, Robin, Richard, Roman, Rhodes, Sally, Sonal, Sullivan, Sophie, Topher, Thomas, Treman, Zane. I could go on and on.
Quote to quote, “He could feel the creature inside of him sit up, aware of the danger but unable to escape it” (p 138).
Playlist: Haydn Sonata No. 50 in D Major.
Author fact: Yanagihara graduated from Smith College. Too cool.
Book trivia: Little Life is Yanagihara’s second book.
Powers, Richard. The Time of Our Singing. Picador, 2004.
Reason read: Richard Powers was born in the month of June. Read in his honor.
Writing a review for this book was difficult considering our current national climate. Is it fair to bring a child into this world, knowing full well his or her life will be an uphill, hurtful, and potentially lethal journey? With Roe V. Wade being overturned, this is a burning question for me. In The Time of Our Singing it is 1939 and David Strom, a German Jewish white man meets and falls in love with an African American young lady from Philadelphia. Should they have an interfaith relationship? Could they succeed in a biracial marriage? What hardships would their children have in a world consumed with the hate and segregation and World War II? Is it blind faith to assume their offspring will thrive beyond race with the help of music? So many questions that kept me reading all 600+ pages to the very end. Time of Our Singing also tells the story of David and Delia’s children. Jonah, Joseph, and Ruth come of age during the early Civil Rights movement and the turmoil of racial unrest follows them through adulthood. Jonah and Joseph go the route of music and fame, while Ruth veers violently in the opposite direction. Over time, they cannot ignore their color or where they came from. Through music comes recognition and redemption.
What I liked the most was the clever writing in that there are hints of a disaster: a photograph that has escaped being burned. What a black boy from Chicago doesn’t know about deep south segregation. How hatred can burn like an inferno until it explodes in disaster.
Lines I liked, “Music was there lease, their deed, their eminent domain” (p 9), “She beat at the recipe with a force her daughter couldn’t fail to read” (p 131), “Death mixes all races” (p 145), “The puppet refused to sit up and speak” (p 495), and “Race’s worst injuries are color-blind” (p 553).
Author fact: Pearl really likes Richard Powers. He has his own chapter in Book Lust. For the Challenge I am reading five more books by Powers and I have already read Gain and Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance. Due to their length, I don’t think I finished either one.
Book trivia: Time of Our Singing is a hefty 600+ pages.
Playlist: Musicians: Andre Watts, Bach, Brahms, Cole Porter, Cherubini, Charlie Parker, Camilla Williams, Duke Ellington, Dvorak, Dorothy Maynor, Dizzy Gillespie, Debussy, David Strom, Delia, Doors, Eartha Kitt, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Ginger Kiltie, Hayden, Holst, Ice Cube, Josquin Absalom, Jules Bledsoe, Jim Morrison, Leontyne Price, Marian Anderson, Mimi, Mendelsohn, Mozart, Miles Davis, Pucci, Paula Squires, Phillipa Duke Schuyler, Robert McFerrin, the Supremes, Schubert, Tallis, and Wreckin’ Cru
Songs: “Alto Rhapsody”, “America”, “Asleep in the Deep”, “Auf Ewigkeit”, “Ave Maria”, “Ave verum corpus”, “Balm in Gilead”, “The Boy’s Magic Horn”, “By the Waters of Babylon”, “Come Again, Sweet Love Doth Now Invite”, “California Girls”, “Deceit Holds the World in Its Domain”, “Dance of the Seven Veils”, “Down by the Salley Gardens”, “Elija”, “Fascinating Rhythm”, “Floral Bandit”, “From the New World”, “German Dance #1”, “Go Down Moses”, “Good Vibrations”, “Gospel Train”, “Honeysuckle Rose”, “I Hear a Symphony”, “I’m a Believer”, “Ladonna e mobile”, “Lord God of Abraham”, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, “Marching to Freedomland”, “Miller’s Beautiful Daughter”, “My Soul is Anchored to the Lord”, “Motherless Child”, “O Mio Fernando”, “On That Great Gettin’ Up Morning”, “Ol Man River”, “Prelude to a Kiss”, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”, “Se La Face Ay Pale”, “Satin Doll”, “Swanee River”, “Star Spangled Banner”, “Saint Matthew Passion”, “Sussestille”, “There’s a Rainbow Round My Shoulder”, “Time Stands Still”, “Trampin'”, “Trout”, “Turkey in the Straw”, “Werther”, “We Can Work It Out”, and “You Are My Sunshine”
Nancy said: Pearl dedicated a whole chapter to Powers so she had a lot to say about the author. Not so much about The Time of Our Singing.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Richard Powers: Too Good To Miss” (p 191).
Doctorow, E.L. Ragtime. Plume, 1996.
Reason read: Emma Goldman was born in June. Read in her memory.
Rich in historical fiction, Ragtime will parade past its readers men like Sigmund Freud, Winslow Homer, Henry Ford, Harry Houdini, J.P. Morgan, Theodore Dreiser, and Booker T. Washington.
All walks of life thrive within the pages of Ragtime. The sideshow freaks of the Barnum and Bailey circus, the curse of the Egyptian mummies, the advent of the Model Ford, the destruction of Tammany Hall, sexual fainting was a thing, segregation was strict in parts of the country, there was human trafficking by a different name, Robert Peary’s quest for the Arctic, L.L Bean boots, the Stanford White shooting, Charles Dana Gibson was asking the eternal question, the anarchist Emma Goldman, even Emiliano Zapata. At the center of this turn-of-the-century drama is ten years of one family. Their business is fireworks and flags and while they are profitable in business, they are poor in happiness. Everyone is undergoing personal strife. It isn’t until a seemingly abandoned black child wanders into their midst, followed by the depressed mother and musician father when things start to perk up.
Best lines: none because I am too lazy to seek permission. Blah, blah, blah.
Author fact: E.L. stands for Edward Lawrence.
Book trivia: Ragtime was made into a move starring James Olson in 1981. Of course I haven’t seen it.
Playlist: with a name like Ragtime you know music will be mentioned. Al Jolson, Scott Joplin’s “Wall Street Rag” and “The Maple Leaf”, Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody”, John McCormack’s “I Hear You Calling Me”, and “The Liberty Bell March”.
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Ragtime except to describe a little of the plot.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “American History: Fiction” (p 22)
Rieder, Stefan. Introduction to the Whole Food Plant Based Lifestyle to Restore Your Health: How 5 Healthy Habits Can Transform Your Life, Regain Your Mind and Reward You With Youthful Longevity. Digital File, 2022.
Reason read: I am a member of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing. This is an early spring review.
Confessional: I usually like to test out a diet before writing a review. Since this is a lifestyle change, you would have to wait for a long time before I was able to say if the book did anything it promised.
Right off the bat, I have comments about the title. First, what a mouthful, especially with the even longer subtitle! Second, I’d like to think Rieder was not only thinking pie in the sky results (the reward of “youthful longevity”), but also tongue-in-cheek humor (“regain your mind”, implying you lost it some time ago).
A few negatives: reading this on a phone was note enjoyable; the announcements of a free gift more than once was a little gimmicky; I wished that there were recipes included in the sample diet menu; some portions of the book were geared towards men; most of the information was what I would consider common sense.
Now for the positives: even though reading the whole book on a phone was not particularly fun, I appreciated the shopping lists being at my fingertips as I don’t go anywhere without my phone. The list made going to the grocery store very convenient. No excuses! The e-gift ads were easy to scroll past. The list of resources gave other places for recipes and more information. Authors should write what they know. Rieder is male, so it makes sense he would offer more advice to his gender. Previously I said most of the information is what I would consider common sense. Not all. I did learn a few things. Probably my best compliment for Introduction to the Whole Food Plant Based Lifestyle to Restore Your Health is how much I appreciated Rieder’s attitude. He is clearly very passionate about eating healthy, his enthusiasm for helping others was inspiring, and his personal story was touching. I know I will turn this book into a reference I will refer to from time to time.
Author fact: Rieder wrote a guidebook for couples seeking adventure.
Book trivia: the e-version of this book is a little hard to read. I would have much rather reviewed a print version so I could take notes and bookmark pages.
Macaulay, David. Castle. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1977.
Reason read: so in the month of June Kisa took me to a castle in Colorado. I’ll never forget Castle Marne because it is where we got engaged. Read Castle on honor of that memory.
Despite the fact the castle and surround community are imaginary, the construction of the castle itself, in 1286 Wales, is a realistic blueprint. A lot of detail went into explaining the process, complete with a layout of all the tools for a carpenter’s trade as well as the weapons of war. And speaking of war, I have to admit I had to look up the difference between a siege and an attack. I had heard them used interchangeably on the news. Thank you, Mr. Macaulay. All of the illustrations are spectacular. As an aside, I loved the little culprit sitting in the dungeon. Equally amusing was how they disposed of human waste. Yes, I have that kind of humor sometimes. I heard that Castle was also made into a documentary.
Author fact: Macaulay also wrote about the construction of cathedrals (which I already read), mills, pyramids, and mosques. I am reading about them all for the Challenge.
Book trivia: the dedication is to the past – farewell!
Nancy said: Pearl said all of Macaulay’s books are wonderful but Castle is her favorite.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Building Blocks” (p 38).
Tayler, Jeffrey. Angry Wind: Through Muslim Black Africa by Truck, Bus, Boat, and Camel. Houghton Mifflin Co., 2005.
Reason read: so this is a stretch, but there is a sand castle building competition during the month of June somewhere in the world. I can’t remember why I know that. Sand is needed to build a castle and there is a lot of sand in Angry Wind.
I am always reading about the journeys of foreigners deliberately visiting war zones because, as they say, they’ve “always wanted to visit the area”. Never mind that the country in question is under rebel attack or that the natives hate “you people”. With the help of drivers, translators, and fixers, these fearless authors describe how they reluctantly hand over bribes along with precious passports, visas, and other important documents as if they trained a lifetime for such a vulnerable event. I am always reading from the perspective of the cavalier authors who have to wait for permissions to be granted, roadblocks and barriers to be cleared, bribes to be bestowed upon the greedy; all to be allowed safe passage. These people who somehow just know things will work out in their favor. I am never on the other side where the viewpoint is of the bandit, the enemy, or the political bigwig with all the power and hatred to let a traveler pass. However, I thoroughly Tayler’s description of getting past these same people. Some of the episodes are funny. As an aside, I loved the white-out people. Dab, dab, dab.
Tayler has a keen eye for society, no matter how archaic. The tradition of slavery: the Bellas being captive but not. Female circumcision as a tradition of misconception that cannot be logically argued away. The varying cultures make everyone suspicious of one another. I was relived when Tayler recognized he couldn’t change these cultures, but he argued against them just the same.
Confessional: an army of people helped Tayler cross five countries. I was pleased when he recognized all the people who had helped him as kind and generous.
Book travesty – someone decided to mark up a library copy of Angry Wind. I get the impression this person didn’t like Tayler’s opinion of Bush, especially when describing how the President came into power by force and manipulation. The notations are almost like a one-sided conversation, daring Tayler to say more. He or she actually calls Tayler a nitwit at one point! The more the writing went on, the more taunting the scribbler became.
Lines I liked, “My barren eschatological speculations left me with no hope of…” and “But the desert is really about….”. Oops. I don’t have permission to quote these remarkable lines. I take them back.
Author fact: Tayler also wrote Facing the Congo, River of No Reprieve, Glory in a Camel’s Eye, and Murderers in Mausoleums. All of these books are on my Challenge list. And! And. And, I just have to say, when I first saw Tayler’s author photo I thought I was looking at Simon Cowell.
Book trivia: I was hoping for some photographs….
Playlist: Stevei Wonder, “Silent night”, “O Come All Ye Faithful”, “Feelings”, and “Hey, Jude”.
Nancy said: Pearl said Angry Wind is “a thoughtful description” and Tayler writing is powerful, fluent, and meaningful.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “The Sahara: Sand Between Your Toes” (p 192). As an aside, I don’t always make mention of this, but Angry Wind is the first book I am reading for this chapter.
Estleman, Loren D. Jitterbug. Tom Doherty Associates Book, 1998.
Reason read: to continue the series started in January in honor of Michigan becoming a state.
Confessional: sometimes reading Doyle gives me the sensation of being dropped into a foreign city at rush hour. People are buzzing with energy all around me, all coming and going, going and coming. Worst case in this scenario, I’m blindfolded and spun around until I can’t walk straight. There are so many characters and side plots I’m bumping into everything. So far, Jitterbug is my favorite. It is the least chaotic. I like the viewpoint from the serial killer masquerading as a soldier. Police think the killings are mafia related because someone is targeting citizens who hoard ration stamps. Is it a punishment of sorts? I also liked the time period of life during World War II, a time when desegregation was an attempt to support the war effort, yet racism and prejudice still thrive. Some of the murders are a little hard to take because Estleman lets you into the victim’s life enough so that you begin to care. You learn a little about their struggles before they die and that makes their demise a little harder to take. (Kind of like Game of Thrones when you like a character and are completely bummed when they are killed off too early in the series.) True to form, Estleman brings back well known characters, like my favorite Connie Minor.
Be warned – Estleman uses language of the time to describe ethnic groups. It isn’t always pretty.
As an aside, I loved the reference to Myrna Loy. Who remembers her? Josh Ritter wrote a song titled “Myrna Loy.” Is it about the actress? I’m not sure.
Author fact: Estleman is the author of over forty novels. This is the penultimate one for the Challenge list.
Cars: Auburn, Chrysler, De Soto, Dodge, Ford, GM, Lincoln Zephyr, Model T, Nash, Oldsmobile, Packard Clipper, Plymouth Coupe, Pontiac Torpedo,
Fashion: argyles, bow tie, beanie, bobby sox, cloche hat, coveralls, cowboy boots, cummerbunds, cordovan loafers, denim, evening gloves, fedora, gabardine, galoshes, kupperheimer tropical suit, khakis, leather vests, linen, peg tops, poncho, rayon pajamas, saddle shoes, seersucker suit, tweed, trench coat, wingtips, worsted wool, Wittnauer, zoot suit,
Playlist: Artists – Anita O’Day, the Anderson Sisters, Benny Goodman, Bessie Smith, Billy Eckstine, Billy Holiday, Bing Crosby, Blind Lemon, Bob Eberly, Cab Calloway, Chick Webb, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Earl Fatha Hines, Frank Sinatra, Fritz Kreisler, Glenn Miller, Helen O’Connell, Hot Lips Page, Jelly Roll Morton, Jimmy Dorsey, Kate Smith, King Oliver, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong (Satchmo), McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, Red Onion Jazz Babies, Sidney Bechet, Scrapper Blackwell, Xavier Cugat, Yuhudi Menhuhn, and Zue Robertson,
Songs – “Amapola”, “Cielito Lindo”, “Contrasts”, “Cow Cow Boogie”, “Cuban Pete”, “Don’t Be That Way”, “Gimme a Pig Foot”, “God Bless America”, “Green eyes”, “In the Mood”, “Let Me Off Uptown”, “Lost Your Head Blues”, “My Shawl”, “Saint James Infirmary”, “Song of India”, “Swanee”, “Star Spangled Banner”, “South of the Border”, “Tangerine”, and “White Cliffs of Dover”
Nancy said: Pearl called the entire series sweeping and gritty.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Big Ten Country: The Literary Midwest, Michigan” (p 25).
Farina, Richard. Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me. Penguin Classic, 1996.
Reason read: I just finished the biographies of Farina, Baez, and Dylan. This seemed like the natural choice for the next book to read.
Which is better? To know more about the author than his work or vice versa, especially when starting to read his debut novel? I had just finished reading a biography that included Farina and it seemed like a natural progression to dive into his novel. But before I began I questioned, was this a good idea? What if my reading and interpretation would be skewed by knowing Farina’s life more intimately than not? Pynchon admits Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me is transparently autobiographical. Gnossos Pappadopoulis (“the G is silent”) is Richard Farina in more ways than probably the author intended. Art imitates life in this case. There is a collision of blood with the manic boo to make everything a little more celestial in its demise.
In addition to being autobiographical, Been Down So Long is a tribute to the culture of the late 1950s. Drugs, relationships, music, college, sex, religion, all show up and parade past the reader waving their colors of glory. Amidst the electric blue imagery seethes black comedy. There is a jaunty style of half lying that simply cannot be believed. Buzzy. I am sure with all the farmland there are plenty of rainbows and you should not forget about the umbro horrors rocks in the roots that fall down like marshmallows in cloudlike wisps. Gnossos, like Farina, was the king of tall tales, as he says “ovarian doom waiting to be fertilized” (p 12).
Quotes to quote, “Wise mother, though, hanging on in Athene, existence through academic osmosis, eluding the asphalt seas outside” (p 106). Amen. Another, “In the cobalt night he dreamed of disaster to come and cursed her sweetly into the sulfur cauldrons of hell” (p 233). Sure. Last one, “The loose beads of perception seemed to be falling through a hole in the tangible surface of the world and spilling all over the four-dimensional floor” (p 303). My favorite.
Author fact: Farina died in a motorcycle accident two days after the publication of Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me.
Book trivia: Thomas Pynchon wrote the introduction to Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me.
Playlist: Harry Belafonte, Corelli, Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis (the best of all the jazz cats), Peter Yarrow, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Buddy Holly, Leadbelly, Mose Allison, Weill and Breck, and of course Mimi Baez. “Peggy Sue” and “Silent Night”.
Nancy said: Pearl mentioned Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me because he is the subject of a memoir from the 1960s. Been Down So Long… shouldn’t be in More Book Lust (or at least the chapter on the 1960s).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “The 1960s In Fact and Fiction” (p 178).
Bloom, Amy. Away. Random House, 2007.
Reason read: the Tunguska explosion happened on June 30th, 1908. Read in remembrance of that day even though neither the event or the place is relevant to the story.
Away begs the question – as a mother, how far would you go to save your child? Lillian Leyb is a Russian widow, an orphan, and a mother who has lost her child to horrible violence during a Russian pogrom. As seemingly the only survivor of her family, she makes her way to America and it is in New York City where she tries to build a better life for herself as a seamstress in a theater company. When she hears that her four year old daughter might still be alive somewhere in Siberia, Lillian risks everything to get to her. She prostitutes her body, mind, and soul to get to Sophie. Lilian learns sex can be a weapon, a coping mechanism, but also her power and her comfort.
It is one thing to say Lillian traveled to Siberia from New York, but it is quite another to see a map of her arduous journey from Manhattan to Chicago, to Fargo, to Spokane, to Vancouver and Dawson. The miles stretch out in an impossible-to-fathom line from one coast to the other.
Confessional: towards the end of the book Lillian meets someone who is the epitome of safety and home. I had to skim further pages to make sure they stayed connected. I was way too impatient to let the story play out for itself.
Favorite quotes, “But in the morning everything can, and must, be seen” (p 219).
Author fact: I am also reading Bloom’s A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, but she has written a bunch more.
Book trivia: Away is also in audio book format. Find it!
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything about Away except to include it in the fiction about Siberia. It would have been more appropriate in a chapter about journeys or immigration.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Siberian Chills” (p 203).