Nervous Conditions

Dangarembga, Tsitsi. Nervous Conditions. Oxford: Ayebia Clarke Publishing, 2004.

Reason read: March is African Writers Month.

Line I liked a lot, “She began to prepare me for disappointment long before I would have been forced to face up to it” (p 20).

As an adult recalling her childhood, Tambudzai remembers spending most of her formative years constantly questioning the right action to take, not only as a representative of her Rhodesian culture, but as a woman in a male dominated society. It is the 1960s and her missionary uncle has given her the opportunity to attend his school. He is the provider, the all-powerful headmaster, capable of shaping Tambu’s future or tearing it down on a whim. She recalls enduring endless lectures from him, nagging reminders of how lucky she was to be given the opportunity for mental emancipation. She wouldn’t have gotten the chance had his first choice, her brother, not died. Indeed, as soon as Tambu entered his household Tambu began to learn new things: how to hold a fork, the proper way to use a toilet, take a bath, or shut out a light. She endures a love-hate relationship with her cousin, a girl with the same restless desires to break free of societal trappings.
Favorite line, “Her seriousness changed from sweet, soft dove into something more like a wasp” (p 101).

Author fact: Dangarembga has written a great deal, but I am only reading Nervous Conditions for the Challenge. This is her first novel.

Book trivia: Nervous Conditions was Dangarembga’s first novel.

Nancy said: after Pearl wrote Book Lust people started to ask her about titles she had omitted. Nervous Conditions was one such title. Pearl called the opening line to Nervous Conditions “provocative.”

BookLust Twist: This is a popular one: from Book Lust in the chapter “African Literature in English” (p 16). Also in More Book Lust in two places, the introduction (p xi), and again in the chapter called “Lines that Linger, Sentences that Stick” (p 140).


Rage of the Vulture

Unsworth, Barry. Rage of the Vulture. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1982.

Reason read: March is (or was) a good time to visit Turkey. I thought I had gotten rid of all the “good time to visit” reasons, but I guess there was one straggler. Oh well.

As an aside, I am always daunted by books with lists of characters. It’s as if the author is warning the reader, “I have included so many people you won’t be able to keep up.” One character I could not wrap my empathy around was Captain Robert Markham. He’s not very lovable as the main protagonist. He doesn’t connect with his ten year old son except to see him as a rival for his wife’s affections. It’s as if he doesn’t know what to do with his boy, Henry. This fact is not lost on the kid. Meanwhile, Robert treats his wife as an ornamental yet extremely fragile vase he parades out and places front and center during social occasions. His saves his sexual appetite for Henry’s governess. He all but rapes this poor girl because he has told her his truth; his Armenian fiance was raped and murdered twelve years earlier at their engagement party. What happens when all these secrets are revealed and Markham’s world starts to unravel? It’s an interesting dilemma.

Lines that got me (and there were a lot of them so I will try to keep this to a minimum), “He seemed to live behind some contrived fence, as ill or afflicted people do” (p 22), and “He would silence this voice of consolation which sought to make his apostasy trivial” (p 231).

Author fact: Unsworth also wrote Sacred Hunger which is also on my list.

Book trivia: I could picture this as a movie.

Nancy said: In Book Lust To Go Pearl recommended Rage of the Vulture as a book written by a non-Turkish writer. In More Book Lust Pearl mentions Rage of the Vulture as a historical novel and describes the plot.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Turkish Delights: Fiction” (p 239). Also in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Digging Up the Past Through Fiction (p 79).


Openhearted Audience

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).


Two Old Women

Wallis, Velma. Two Old Women: An Alaskan Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival. New York: Perennial, 1993.

Reason read: Seward Day is in March.

Two old women do not know each other very well before being abandoned by their People. Surviving the wilds of Arctic Circle Alaska is serious business, especially when you are elderly. Winter is closing in, food is scarce, and it is time for the tribe to be moving on. The Athabaskan Chief and his Council make the tough decision to leave their weakest behind in order to survive the harsh elements. This means seventy-five year old Sa’ and eighty year old Ch’idzigyaak are left to fend for themselves: finding food, making clothes, securing shelter, and staving off loneliness. These women are tough and resourceful, which makes for great perseverance.
Spoiler alert. This has a happy ending so you know the women survive. That wasn’t the plot twist for me. What I didn’t expect was the women’s fear of their tribe “finding” them again. They were suspicious of potential malevolent behavior (including cannibalism) if they were discovered to have survived. Even when they are reunited with their People, it takes time to trust them again. Who can blame them?

In my modern day society, I thought could not imagine a society where a community leaves its elderly behind, knowing full well they will probably will die. But then again, oh wait. I do. Italy, March 2020. They had to make the hard decision to not offer ventilators to anyone over the age of 80. Survival of the fittest.

Quote I liked best, “The body needs food but the mind needs people” (p 65).

Author fact: Wallis was born in the Alaskan interior. Two Old Women is her first novel.

Book trivia: Two Old Women was illustrated by James Grant.

Nancy said: Pearl actually didn’t chose Two Old Women. She asked author Dana Stabenow to select some Alaskan titles. Stabenow said Two Old Women is very controversial in Alaska.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “All Set For Alaska” (p 15).


Love That Dog

Creech, Sharon. Love That Dog. New York: Joanna Cotler Books, 2001.

Reason read: April is Dog month.

Watch a boy learn to love writing poetry. At first he comes across as aloof, retorting that only girls are into poetry. Don’t tell anyone I can write, he begs the teacher, Miss Stretchberry. Little by little, poem by poem, Jack’s confidence as a poet grows. It is extremely clever how Creech uses well known (and loved) poets to reach into young Jack’s mind and pull out confidence. Even though this book is only 80 pages long, every single word is golden.
As an aside, the adult in me immediately clued into Jack’s tense changing when writing about his dog, Sky. I had that sense of foreboding that only comes from a loss of innocence. Adulthood taught me to expect the worst.

Best line of all: “I think Robert Frost has a little too much time on his hands” (p 20).

Author fact: Creech is a Newbery Medal winner for a different book. Her list of published titles is impressive, but I am only reading Love That Dog.

Book trivia: This seems like a book for children, but adults could learn a thing or two from Jack.

Nancy said: the only thing Pearl said specifically about Love That Dog is that it is suited for boys and girls equally.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Boys and Girls” (p 21).


On the Night Plain

Lennon, J. Robert. On the Night Plain. New York: Henry Holt, 2001.

Reason read: April is Sibling month.

Grant Person is a curious character. When we first meet this protagonist, he is leaving his Montana sheep ranching family for somewhere (anywhere?) else. His whole attitude is one of ambivalence. If the train stops he’ll get on board. If not, oh well. He’ll go back to his parents and brother as if nothing happened. He has no clear direction other than he would head due east towards New York. He ends up in Atlantic City, New Jersey for some time then wanders home again when he learns his mother has died.
When Grant returns, he is the exact opposite. He comes home to a sheep ranch barely surviving. After his mother’s death, his father runs away. His brother with dreams of being an artist has one foot out the door himself. By himself, Grant becomes singular in his focus to save the farm. It’s a stark story with barely any color or light.

There were a lot of lines I really, really like. “A smile seemed to think about appearing on Cotter’s face but it never arrived” (p 55),

Author fact: J. Robert Lennon also wrote The Funnies which I have already read for the Challenge. He also wrote a series which I am not reading.

Book trivia: I could see this being a movie.

Nancy said: In Book Lust Pearl jokes Lennon is successful at setting a tragedy of Greek proportions on a failing sheep farm on the Great Plains. In More book Lust Pearl included On the Night Plain as an example of brothers who have loved and hated one another.

BookLust Twist: Pearl liked this one. From Book Lust in the chapter called “Western Fiction” (p 240); also from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Oh, Brother” (p 180).


More Than Petticoats

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.