Kindred

Butler, Octavia, E. Kindred. Read by Kim Staunton. Audio Books, 2007.

Reason read: The audio book for Kindred was released on September 12th, 2007. Read in honor of that event. I also needed a book with a one word title for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.

This was a hard read. I know what Butler was trying to do and it worked almost too well. Even just reading the fact that nigger was not a derogatory term in southern Maryland in 1815 was painful. I didn’t know how I would get through the much, much, much harsher treatment of slaves, but I did. Dana, a modern woman from the 1970s, finds herself time-traveling back to pre-Civil War Maryland. At first it seems as if Dana is going back in time to protect the future of her very existence. It’s much deeper than that. There were many themes introduced in Kindred. Probably the most profound theme surrounded literacy. The ability to read was controversial in the mid 1800s. Seen as a threat to whites, cherished as a secret communication for slaves, the ability to read symbolized power and a different form of freedom. Confessional: after Dana’s first jump I was disturbed by her early acceptance of time travel. She wasn’t as freaked out about time jumping between present day Los Angeles and slave era Maryland as I thought realistic. Add in the fact she accidentally took her white husband with her and a whole other dynamic gets introduced. Another confessional: I read this so fast I can barely remember the details except to say the violence stayed with me for a very long time, even if the entire plot didn’t.

Author fact: Butler passed away in 2006.

Book trivia: I could picture this being a movie.

Nancy said: Pearl only includes Kindred in a list of books about time travel one might enjoy.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Time Travel” (p 221).

Farmer Giles of Ham

Tolkien, J.R.R. Farmer Giles of Ham: The Rise and Wonderful Adventures of Farmer Giles, Lord Tame Count of Worminghall and Knight of the Little Kingdom. Embelished by Pauline Baynes. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1976.

Reason read: October is Fantasy Month. I also needed a book for the category of “Book I wish I had read as a child” for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.

Farmer Giles (aka Aegidius Ahenobarbus Julius Agricola De Hammo) lives in a kingdom where giants and dragons occasionally terrorize the community. Normally one to mind his own business and not get involved, Farmer Giles is seen as a hero after he chases off a giant terrorizing the village and squashing livestock. After such accidental bravado, it is only natural that the village appoint Farmer Giles as the one to slay a greedy dragon (worm) when it comes calling on Ham. With a talking dog and an overworked mare, Giles accepts the challenge. The result is as humorous as it is childish. This is a book for children of all ages, after all.

Quote I liked, “It ran through the realm like fire and lost nothing in the telling” (p 40). That’s the sign of a good rumor. Note to self: beyond being a hero, it is good to be a darling.

Author fact: Everyone knows Tolkien for his Lord of the Rings series. I have to admit, I had never heard of Farmer Giles of Ham until Book Lust.

Book trivia: Farmer Giles of Ham is hailed as a book for children but I have to agree with one reviewer that it is a book for all ages. At only 64 pages it is a quick read.

Nancy said: Pearl said Tolkien’s Farmer Giles of Ham has one of her favorite quotes about the possibilities of fantasy.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 213). As an aside, I am really putting a dent in this chapter this year.

Brooklyn

Toibin, Colm. Brooklyn. Scribner, 2009.

Reason read: October is festival month in Ireland. Time to celebrate the green isle. I also needed a book with a one-word title for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.

Colm Toibin writes with such clear sincerity one can easily walk in young Eilis Lacey’s shoes as she navigates entry into adulthood. Unable to find decent employment in rural Ireland, she is taken under the wing of Father Flood, an Irish priest who has emigrated to the big city of Brooklyn, New York; the land of opportunity. Father Flood has seen Eilis’s talents and believes she will do well in America. Leaving behind her widowed and weak mother and vivacious sister, Eilis slowly makes a life for herself in her strange new city. Even though she is naive she finds work, starts college for a career in book keeping, and even finds a nice Italian boy with whom to fall in love. But, Brooklyn is not Ireland. It’s not even close to feeling like home. No one is her true family. When she is called back to Ireland following a family tragedy, it is no surprise that Eilis falls comfortably back into old routines. Only this time she is a different, more confident young woman. Both worlds feel right to her. Both worlds are home but which one will she chose?

I found myself identifying with Eilis in small insignificant ways. I wear makeup when I need a little extra courage. I think my sister is the coolest person on the planet.

As an aside, I found myself humming “My sister Rose” by 10,000 Manaics after every reading of Brooklyn. It could have been sung from the perspective of Eilis Lacey.

Author fact: Toilbin has written a bunch of other books. I am reading a total of four of them for the Book Challenge.

Book trivia: Brooklyn was made into a movie in November 2015.

Nancy said: Pearl explained that Brooklyn was in the Ireland chapter of Book Lust To Go because the first and last parts take place in a “beautifully evoked” small Irish town (p 111).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Ireland: Beyond Joyce, Behan, Beckett, and Synge” (p 110).

Haunting of Hill House

Jackson, Shirley. The Haunting of Hill House. Pengin Horror, 2013.

Reason read: October is the time for spooky stories. I also needed a story where the house is central to the plot for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge. This fit the bill.

Any story endorsed by Stephen King is going to be a thriller. At least, one would think. Such is the case with The Haunting of Hill House. I was thrilled with it. Jackson is masterful at making an old mansion come alive in subtle, yet ominous ways. For starters, the house is built all wrong. Jackson obviously understood that symmetry is the key to desired beauty, so to make something ugly it has to be confusing with uneven angles that defy logic. Sightlines would not make sense. Doors have to lead nowhere. Staircases turn inhabitants around to the point of dizzying confusion. Despite all this, a certain Dr. Montegue has heard all the rumors about Hill House and cannot wait to investigate the so-called haunted house. He has been waiting for a house like this all his life. His “guests” Eleanor Vance and Theodora (first name only Theodora) join him and the heir to Hill House, Luke Sanderson, in a quest to search out the ghosts and paranormal activity.
Rules of the house: try not to close any doors, keep lights on at all times, don’t try to leave the house at night, never get separated and/or try to do everything together. It goes wothout saying, they all fail at one or all of these commands at one time or another. Hill House starts to show its personality when it first drops the tempature. The colder the room, the closer the threat. Then it tries to get the group to break up by masterfully turning them against one another. Eleanor is the obvious weakest link. She feel empty before even coming to Hill House. The death of her mother weighs on her and guilt threatens to strangle her at every quiet moment. Guess who falls prey to the house?

As an aside, my father-in-law was not a fan of neither the book nor the movie. I’m not sure why. Since it’s October, I watched both versions of the remake. I can’t tell you which one I liked better. The 1963 version was more true to the novel, but the 1999 version was scarier (people actually die in the latter version).

Author fact: Jackson died in North Bennington, Vermont. Just up the road from me.

Book trivia: The Haunting of Hill House was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1959. It was also made into a kooky little movie in 1963.

Nancy said: Pearl had lots to say about The Haunting of Hill House. She said it cemented Jackson’s reputation (despite two bad movies). She called it a classic that has been “scaring people” since it was first written. She also said it was a “superb” example of the range horror fiction.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust twice, once in the chapter called “Ghost Stories” (p 100) and again, in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 217). A little redundant.

The Castle

Kafka, Franz. The Castle. Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir. Everyman’s Library, 1992.

Reason read: While this is not “The Verdict”, I am reading The Castle in honor of the month “Verdict” was written.

Do you remember the story of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet following the trail of a woozle? They think the woozles are multiplying because their own footprints are multiplying as they circle the tree? The absurdity of following your own footprints without conclusion – that is exactly what reading The Castle is like. K. is a land surveyor who thinks he has been hired to do a job for the Castle only for some inane reason he cannot gain entry. Barriers abound everywhere. How can he measure and estimate if he cannot visit this very important castle? K. is literally thwarted at every turn. No matter how hard he tries, no matter how many schemes he concocts, he never does any surveying for anyone. On a deeper level, it seems Kafka is trying to tell us K. abandons his home for a quest for meaning.
Beside the strangeness of K.’s insistence to do a job he obviously wasn’t hired for, there are other bizarre moments: K. randomly throwing snowballs at people or calling both assistants by the same name because he cannot tell them apart (and why does he need assistants when he can’t do the job in the first place?). All of a sudden he is engaged to Herr Klamm’s lover, Frieda. They are given classrooms as a place to live as they are hired to take care of the school and vegetable garden, only they have to vacate the room if a class is in session. Of course a class is going to be in session and heaven forbid K. is left alone with the cat! So many absurdities that I’m back to the analogy of Pooh and Piglet.
As an aside, listen to a song by Josh Ritter called “The Torch Committee”. In the lyrics, Josh lists rules and regulations that are reminiscent of the hoops K. must go through in order to gain entry to the castle. If K. is not dealing with the Control Official or Department A, he is negotiating with Town Council or the Superintendent or the Mayor.

Author fact: I also read The Trial by Kafka as part of the Book Lust challenge.

Book trivia: of course The Castle was made into a movie. It has also been a radio program and a graphic novel. For another thing, translation matters! For the first time I have paid attention to the words translators pick: annoyed versus exasperated, defend versus vindicate, quickly versus hastily. What a difference the choise of a word makes!

Nancy said: Pearl said Kafka had a “frightening view” of Prague.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Czech It Out” (p 70).

Woman Warrior

Kingston, Maxine Hong. Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. Everyman’s Library, 1976.

Reason read: California became a state in September. Woman Warrior was also published in September.

Kingston is a master at weaving first, second, and third voices into a memoir filled with anicient Chinese folklore and cautionary tales about womanhood. I felt a lot of sadness in Woman Warrior. The tragedy starts early in as Kingston describes her mother, a former Chinese doctor, telling a horrifying tale about an aunt giving birth to a sexless child in a pigsty and then committing suicide with that baby; drowning together in a well. There was such shame in this pregnancy, “To save her inseminator’s name she gave a silent birth” (p 14). So much contradiction in culture! There is a crime to being born female and yet there is the story of the fierce woman warrior, the legend of the female avenger. My favorite parts were when Kingston addresses the difference between American-feminine and Chinese-feminine.

Quotes to quote, “No one supports me at the expense of his own adventure” (p 50),

Author fact: I could have read this book in honor of Kingston being born in October.

Book trivia: Woman Warrior won the National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything about Woman Warrior except to say that it was published before The Joy Luck Club but didn’t captivate the world like Tan did.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Asian American Experience (p 26).

Bone

Ng, Fae Myenne. Bone. Harper Perennial, 1993.

Reason read: September is the month for the Autumn Festival for China.

Here’s what you need to understand first and foremost. This is a story built around grief. Ona, the middle sister, jumped off the M floor of the Nam. M happens to be the thirteenth floor. Unlucky, unforgivable thirteen. Everything that happens to her surviving family centers on this one fact. Ona jumped. Everything is marked by the time Before Ona Jumped and the time After Ona Jumped. Confessional: I am like that, too. When I hear a specific date, I quickly do the math to determine if it is A.D.D. (after dad’s death) or before – B.D.D. Leila is the eldest of three daughters and the one most constrained by old China values versus modern American China. She is aware of the boldness of her actions (eloping when her ancestors had childbride arranged marriages), but she isn’t the boldest of the family. All three sisters are responsible for Mah’s shame. Her sister Ona committed suicide (shame) and her sister, Nina, had an abortion (shame). Even Mah carries shame (an affair while her second husband was away at sea as a merchant marine). Told from the perspective of Lei, she has to make a decision between dating and duty; between marriage with Mason and Mah. Having both seems impossible.

Lines I really liked: sorry. Can’t quote them.

Author fact: Ng has been compared to F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Book trivia: As an aside, my internet copy of Bone was marked up. Every highlighted area made me think I needed to pay close attention to that specific passage.

Nancy said: nothing specific.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in two different chapters. Once in “Asian American Experience” (p 26). The second time in “California, Here We Come” (p 50).

Purple Hibiscus

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Purple Hibiscus. Anchor Books, 2003.

Reason read: September is Adichie’s birth month. Read in her honor. Additionally, for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge I needed a book by a Nigerian author.

This is another one of those books for young people where the subject matter is so frank and at times, very brutal.
One teenage girl’s recollections of a violent childhood with a father so religious he beats impropriety out of his wife and children on a regular basis. Papa Eugene’s religious zeal steals a relationship with his own father; refusing to let him see the family for any length of time because Papa-Nnukwu worships differently than Catholic. In Eugene’s eyes, anything other than Catholic is equal to pagan. Even though Kambili lives in fear of her father, she is starved for his approval and affection. Rules: English as a language is civilized, Igbo is not. Coming in second in school is not allowed. Sports are not allowed. Shorts are not allowed. Makeup is not allowed. Consorting with the devil is not allowed, even if that “devil” is your own grandfather. As children, Kambili and her brother Jaja got to pick the weapon Papa would use to violently beat them. Even Kambili and Jaja’s mother is not immune to monstrous beatings. Somehow, despite this strictness, Kambili and Jaja are allowed to spend a week with Papa’s sister, Aunty Ifeoma. It’s their first time away from home and their last time experiencing life as they knew it.
Confessional: I wanted to read this book cover to cover in one sitting. I was riveted to the drama.

Lines I liked, “I was stained by failure” (p 39), “We did not scale the rod because we believed we could, we scaled it because we were terrified that we couldn’t” (p 226).

Author fact: Adichie has been compared to Gabriel Garcia Maquez. She is a Commonwealth Writers Prize winner and also wrote Half of a Yellow Sun and The Thing Around Your Neck. Both books are on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: the title of the book comes from the beautiful purple hibiscus flowers aunty grows in her garden. They are a symbol of defiant freedom from religious oppression.

Playlist: “Ave Maria”, “O Come All Ye Faithful”, Fela, Osadebe, and Onyeka.

Nancy said: Pearl said that “Kambili is a character who will remain with you long after the last page of this beautiful and heartrending novel is turned” (p 157 Book Lust To Go).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the simple chapter called “Nigeria” (p 156).

Stringer

Just, Ward. Stringer. Graywolf Press, 1984.

Reason read: Just celebrates a birthday in September. Read in his honor.

Stringer is a Civilian Intelligence Agent sent on a mission to Vietnam to destroy an enemy supply convoy. He has a sly sense of humor. When paired with a Captain named Price, Stringer must practice patience. Price is younger, more impulsive, yet in charge. There is no casual conversation between the two men. Neither has confidence in the other. They are on the same team but distrust keeps them miles apart. To keep himself from thinking too much about Price, Stringer recalls his failures: his marriage, their visit to a classmate in a mental institution, Stringer’s short time as a newspaper man. These recollections keep him on task in the present. Ever present is Just’s commentary on the damage of war.
As an aside, the double murder came as a shock and I don’t know why. I should have seen it coming. As an aside, is the trick to aiming and firing a gun to breathe out and pull the trigger when the lungs are at their emptiest and the heart has slowed? I seem to have read this before. Maybe Lee Child had Reacher fire a gun this way?

Quote to quote, “That was the wonderful thing about hindsight, it was morbid, no optimism in hingsight” (p 6), “Eyes and Brains were not equal to the circumstances, they were too selective” (p 118)

Author fact: Ward Just’s middle name is Swift. What an interesting name.

Book trivia: Despite being a slim volume, Just packs in a great deal of action, emotion, and character.

Nancy said: besides saying Ward Just is too good to miss, she mentions Stringer as another book by him.

Playlist: Brunis, Zutty, George Mitchell, Alcide Pavageau, Fitzhugh, Kid Ory, Sassoon, and the Oliver Band.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Ward Just: Too Good To Miss” (p 135).

Chasing Che

Symmes, Patrick. Chasing Che: a Motocycle Journey in Seach of the Guevara Legend. Vintage Departures, 2000.

Reason read: celebrating the last full month Che Guevara was alive (he died in early October 1967).

There is so much mystery surrounding the life and times of Ernesto “Che” Guevara. His 1952 road trip from Argentina through Chile and up to Bolivia somehow changed him in radical ways. Patrick Symmes wanted to know more about that fateful trip, so why not trace Che’s footsteps and take the same exact journey? Che was on a motorcycle. Symmes would be on a motorcycle. Symmes drew not only from Guevara’s memoir, Notas de Viaje, as his guide, he was fortunate to have the road diaries of Guevara’s traveling companion, Alberto Granado, as well. [As an aside, often times, Notas de Viaje and Testimony: With El Che Across South America would contradict one another. I found it interesting that, more often than not, Symmes tended to believe Guevara over Granado.] Many people will be inspired to retrace the journey of someone else; to follow in their geographic footsteps, but Symmes takes his adventure to another level, searching out the exact places and people Che met along the way. His motto was “Be Like Che.” Would these same people remember the vibrant and charismatic young man? What could Symmes learn from them? By doing this, Symmes was able to meet with remarkable individuals, like Che’s former girlfriend who could not talk about Ernesto, the lover; Douglas Thompkins, the millionaire who bought up Patagonian land to preserve an ancient way of life; and even everyday people who kept Symmes rolling through the miles and navigating the harsh South American landscape. Symmes learned to tolerate drinking yerba mate and having discussions about Nazis in Argentina. He suffered dog bites, cracked ribs, barbed wire, and road spills. Most importantly, Symmes was able to be like Che. When Che mooches off individuals Symmes is able to apply the same tactics with somewhat similar success. The result of Chasing Che is more than a memoir and a travelogue, it is a love letter to one of the most influential people of the twentieth century.

Author fact: Symmes has his own website.

Book trivia: I wish there had been photographs.

Setlist of sorts: “Happy Birthday”, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, and Rage Against the Machine.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Chasing Che.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “In the Footsteps Of…” (p 100).

Moloka’i

Brennert, Alan. Moloka’i. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2003.

Reason read: Hawaii became a state in August.

There is no doubt that Brennert loves the Hawaiian islands. His knowledge of customs and beliefs run deep. Woven throughout the story of Moloka’i are the contradictions of Christianity versus native Hawaiian religion, the spirit of ohana and stories of sacred mythology, and last but not least, the misunderstandings and stigma surrounding what was then known as leprosy.
Rachel Kalama experiences the harsh realities of life when at only seven years of age she contracts leprosy and finds herself a prisoner on the island of Moloka’i. With the innocence only a child can possess, she is able to adapt and make the best of her situation, despite experiencing abandonment, prejudice, and fear surrounding her leprosy badge of shame. She makes friends easily although family dynamics change radically once her infection is confirmed. Only her father and uncle stand by her while her mother and siblings seemingly abandon her to her fate. As Rachel comes of age she navigates relationships with men with the same courage and tenacity. She learns what it means to be feared for her diseased and loved despite it.

As an aside, I couldn’t help but compare the treatment of leprosy with the first few months of the AIDS and Covid-19 epidemics. It is easy to see why in the late 1800s officials treated patients contagious with leprosy so aggressively. Fear dictated their decisions. The isolation, or arrest, of infected people is not unlike the quarantine of Corona virus patients. The stigma of leprosy is equal to the shame of someone testing HIV positive.

Author fact: Brennert worked as a writer-producer for L.A. Law.

Book trivia: I could picture Moloka’i as a movie.

Playlist: “Rock of Ages”, “Hawai’i Pon’i”, “Whiskey Johnnie”, “Blow the Man Down”, “Pua Alani”, Chopsticks”, “Frere Jacques”, Casruso, “Hali’alauni”, “Taps”, “Aloha De”, and “Autumn Serenade”.

Nancy said: Pearl called Moloka’i brilliant.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Hawaii” (p 93). Pearl also could have included it in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Men Channeling Woman”.

Prince of Tides

Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides. Bantam Books, 1986.

Reason read: the memory of how Conroy described summers in the south has always stayed with me. Read in honor of the end of summer.

“If Henry Wingo had not been a violent man, I think he would have made a splendid father” (p 5). That sums up The Prince of Tides in a nutshell. Well, sort of. No. Not really. I want to say it is about loving someone so fiercely you love well beyond any pain they could bring you. The writing of Pat Conroy is so beautiful it is hard to believe the subject matter of Prince of Tides could be so dark. The damaged Wingo family will stay with you long after you have closed the massive 600-plus page book. Most affected is Savannah Wingo, the sister-twin of Tom, who speaks to the hidden ones, hallucinates angels hanging from lamposts and self-mutilates herself to stave off the voice of her father urging her to kill herself. In reality, the bad times roll in as constant as the South Carolina tide for all of the Wingos. The entire family experiences enough unimaginable terrors to last a lifetime. To name a few: a father badly wounded surviving the horrors of World War II with a little help from a priest; Grandpa’s black widow spiders used as a defense from a stalker intent on raping Lila, the Wingo mother; four stillborn children one right after the other, each kept in the freezer like porkchops until it was time to bury them in the backyard; a tiger trained to rip someone’s face off…Probably the worst offense is not Henry Wingo, a father who beats his wife and children. The inexplicable nightmare is Lila Wingo, a woman so hellbent on keeping a prestine and proud reputation she denies every horror. Is this southern living or a perpetual seventh circle of hell?
Savannah is only partially able to escape her violent past by moving to New York City. After her latest suicide attempt is very close to successful, Savannah’s therapist calls Tom, her twin brother, for insight into the Wingo family. In order to help Savannah Dr. Lowenstein needs to dig deeper into the entire family’s tumultuous history. What emerges is Tom’s own tragic story of coming of age as a souther male in an abusive household. In the beginning of Prince of Tides, the character of Tom Wingo was only slightly annoying with his “American Male” posturing. But by page 300 you realize after all that he and his family have gone through he is allowed to tell jokes when it hurts. He has survived by humor his entire life.
Conroy’s Prince of Tides is a strange love letter to the Southern way of life. It is a story of tenacity and tenderness.

As an aside, Savannah’s mysteries were so intriguing I kept a list:

  • Dogs howling
  • Spiders – the Wingo kids unleashed black widows on a man intent on hurting their mother.
  • White house
  • Caged tigers – Casaer the tiger.
  • Three men – three rapists
  • Woods – the forbidden property surrounding Callandwolde
  • Callanwold – the rich people’s mansion in Atlanta, Georgia. Soon became code for a stalker who attacked Lila and her family.
  • Rosedale Road
  • Taps for TPot
  • Brother’s mouth
  • Caesar – the tiger
  • Red pines
  • Gardenias – the flowers Lila wore in her hair
  • Giant – the 7′ man who tried to rape Lila
  • Pixie
  • Coca Cola – the owners of Coca Cola lived in Callanwolde
  • Seals – another of father’s gimicks
  • “a root for the dead men by the crow”
  • Talking graves
  • Snow angels

Haunting quotes to quote, “But there is no magic to nightmares” (p 7) and “We laugh when the pain gets too much” (p 188), and “Rape is a crime against sleep and memory; its afterimage imprints itself like an irreversable negative from the camera obscura of dreams” (483). There were many, many, many other lines I liked. Too many to mention here. Just go read the book for yourself.

Author fact: Pat Conroy also wrote Beach Music. It is not on my Challenge list, but I read it.

Book trivia: I think everyone knows the 1991 movie starring Nick Nolte and Barbra Steisand. In fact, this is one where a scene I vividly remember is NOT from the book.

Playlist: Bach, Vivaldi’s Chaconne, John Philip Sousa March, “Dixie:, “The Star Spangled Banner”, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”, “Pomp and Circumstance”, the Shirrelles, Jerry Lee Lewis, and “Blessed Be the tie that Binds”.

Nancy said: Pearl called Prince of Tides the definition of dysfunctional, a chronicle of dysfuntional families, a good “if not necessarily instructive on what mothers ought not to do” (Book Lust p 160), and “an interesting portrait of therapists of all stripes…” (p 221).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in a ton of places. First, in the chapter called (obviously), “Families in Trouble” (p 82), “Mothers and Sons” (p 160), “100 Good Reads Decade By Decade: 1980” (p 179), “Southern Fiction” (p 222), and “Shrinks and Shrinkees” (p 221).

Mosquito

Tearne, Roma. Mosquito. Europa Editions, 2008.

Reason read: Sri Lanka’s President Rajapaska’s party wins majority in elections (August 2020).

Mosquito has been compared to The English Patient and Atonement because of its theme of love in a time of war. Sri Lanka is a country torn apart. The Liberation Tigers want a separate Tamil state. Everyone is supposed to speak Singhala, the national language. There is violence over this mandated language. Mosquito is exquisite in its portraits of people. Each person lives and breathes with vitality. Notable author Theo Samarajeeva has fallen under the spell of a teenage artist (twenty-eight years his junoir) and, despite the growing conflicts, is brazen enough to think his fame will keep him safe. His latest book is being made into a movie. Teenaged Nulani Mendis (modeled after the author?) lost her father to the conflict. With a brother who can do no harm, a difficult uncle and an overbearing mother at home, Nulani finds solace and happiness painting Theo’s portrait over and over again. But she has also attracted the attention of Liberation Tiger convert, teenaged orphan Vikram. To watch Vikram being groomed and manipulated was hard. My favorite character was Sugi, Theo’s manservant who had become an unusual friend to the famous writer. His character is critical to the love affair between Theo and Nulani.
Tearne has captures poignant elements of grief. The not wanting to be near reminders of a loved one forever gone is very familiar to me. My only eye-rolling comment is the repeated insistence that 17-year-old Nulani is “wise beyond her years” as if this makes it okay for a man 28 years her senior to be attracted to her. My confessional: at the end of the book I wanted the fairytale ending. I didn’t care about the age difference and felt petty for doing so in the first place.

Lines I liked, “In this short intermission between twilight and darkness, a mysterious transformation had occured” (p 106) and “How many lives does a man have to live before he can finally be at peace?” (p 131). A little Bob Dylan, anyone?

Author fact: which came first, Roma Tearne the artist or the author?

Book trivia: Mosquito was shortlisted fothe 2007 Costa First Novel Award.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Mosquito other than to explain the plot.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Scenes From Sri Lanka” (p 196).

Bird Artist

Norman, Howard. The Bird Artist. Picador, 1994.

Reason read: August is fly like a bird month… or someone told me.

From the very first page of The Bird Artist, Howard Norman wants to draw you into the story by having his main character, Fabian Vas, nonchalantly admit that he murdered lighthouse keeper Botho August. The hook is why. Why did seemingly quiet and charming Vas kill August? Why does he admit to it so readily and so casually? Norman will drop other mysteries along the way to keep the reader strung along. Like, why is it risky to write about Fabian’s aunt? Fabian lives in Witless Bay, Newfoundland. Ir all begins when Fabian befriends town troublemaker Margaret. As a thirteen year old she accidentally killed a man. Soon their relationship blossoms into the “with benefits” type despite his arranged marriage to a distant cousin. Maybe it is a cultural thing, but the curious thing about Fabian is that nothing seems to really faze him. His apprenticeship with bird artist Isaac Sprague is shortlived when Sprague disappears in the spring of 1911. Fabian blames himself for being too much a critic of his mentor’s work. When he is moments away from marrying a complete stranger and being arrested for murder almost at the same time, Fabian shows little emotion. His emotion amounts to getting a little nervous when law enforcement shows up. For all of Fabian’s calm, Margaret is his exact opposite. She was my favorite character. Motherless and meandering, Margaret sets fire to life’s challenges. You end up rooting for their dysfunctional relationship no matter what the cost.

As an aside, how can one person consume 20-30 cups of coffee? Is it normal for a father to talk to his son about sex with his wife?

The other characters:

  • Dalton Gillette: Margaret hit him with her bicycle and he fell to his death. Mitchell Kelb investigated the case.
  • Romeo Gillette: widower; son is Dalton; hosted the Canadian Thanksgiving; recovering from a heart attack; owns a store; town gossip; acts as messenger for the characters under house arrest; bought the murder weapon from Mitchell Kelb.
  • Lambert Charibon: best friend of fathers; has a trout camp; doesn’t dream; supports Fabian’s artistic talents.
  • Cora Holly: Fabian is engaged to her despite being related (she is a distant cousin).
  • Aleric Vas: Fabian’s mother; has a sister named Madeleine; is four years younger than her husband; doesn’t like Margaret; is having an affair with the lighthouse keeper; while under house arrest she convinces Kelb to take her rowing; she broke Orkney’s heart.
  • Orkney Vas: Fabian’s father; hunts birds for a living; is instrumental in Fabian’s murder trial; saddest character in the book.
  • Isaac Sprague: birt artist; mysteriously disappeared in 1910; he was Fabian’s teacher by mail.
  • Madeleine: Fabian’s aunt.
  • Botho August: the murder victim; a man over 6′ tall; slim with blue-gray eyes; good at his job as keeper of the light; he listens to gramaphone records; paid for Margaret’s stockings; keeps to himself.
  • Reverend Sillet: 55 years old; hires Fabian to paint a mural.
  • Margaret Handler: 13 years old at the beginning of the story; dad bought her a bicycle; trades sexual favors with Fabian; four years older than Fabian; lives with her father, Enoch; mother died when she was seven; part Beothuk Indian; drinks a great deal of alcohol and can handle a gun. She was my favorite character.
  • Enoch Handler: carpenter and boat builder; hunter and pilots boats; despises priviledge; of average height, solid build with black hair; has a brother named Sebastian; daughter is Margaret; owns and runs the mailboat; takes Fabian to be married to Cora in Halifax.
  • Mitchell Kelb: constable; short man but in physically good shape; wears glasses; arrested Fabian on his wedding day; appointed representative magistrate at the trial.
  • Boas LaCotte: owns the sawmill; nephew is Giles.
  • Helen Twombly: owns the cold storage shack; is 80 years old in 1911; she is a widower; drowned; had an affair; Fabian paints her as a mermaid on his mural.
  • Uncle Sebastian (Bassie): Orkney’s brother; he was a career bank robber; broke Orkney’s jaw as a kid; Fabian hasn’t seen him since he was seven years old; taller than Orkney.
  • Paulette Bath: town librarian; she is a spirited woman in her late 50s or early 60s; she died when Fabian was 17 years old.
  • Giles LaCotte: owns an apple orchard and sawmill with uncle Boas; present at the trial.
  • Bridget Spivey: waitress at Spivey’s restaurant; short and lithe; in her 50s.
  • Lemuel: cook at Spivey’s; 6’2″ with a pudgy face, blue eyes and brown hair; slovenly with bold humor.
  • Odeon Sloo: new lightkeeper after Botho is murdered.
  • Kira Sloo: new lightkeepers wife.
  • Millie Sloo: new lightkeeper’s daughter.
  • Mami Corbett: makes a fruit cake for the characters under house arrest.
  • Llewellyn Boxer: deputy.
  • Hagerforse: owns the guest house where Fabian and Cora are to be married; in her late 50s.
  • Bevel Cabot: present at the trial
  • Miriam Auster: present at the trial
  • Ruth Henley: present at the trial
  • Olive Perrault: present at the trial
  • Elmer Wyatt: present at the trial
  • Peter Kieley: present at the trial
  • Patrick Flood: present at the trial; spoke at Botho’s funeral;
  • Seamus Doyle: present at the trial
  • John Rut: present at the trial
  • Averell Gray: justice of the peace
  • Alex Quorian: photographer for the wedding
  • Peter Kieley: alerted authorities to the murder of Botho
  • Darwin McKinney: dug Botho’s grave
  • Mekeel Dollard: takes notes at the trial; might be the only one in town to own a photo album (and not Alex Quorian?).
  • Arvin Flint – skipper of the doubting Thomas; former constable
  • Andrew Kieley – child in the church
  • Lucas Wyatt – child in the church
  • Sophie Aster – child in the church
  • Carson Synge – child in the church
  • Emma Shore – child in the church
  • Petrus Dollard – child in the church
  • Sally Barrens – child in the church
  • Marni Corbett – child in the church
  • Arden Corbette – child in the church
  • Philomene Slater – child in the church
  • Chester Parmalee – child in the church

As an aside, I found it shocking that they ate puffins considering my only history with the bird is the conservation effort and subsequent tourist opportunity to see them nest.

Lines I really liked, “The eeriest thing about fate, it seems to me, is how you try to deny it even when it’s teaching you to kiss” (p 11) and “Nowadays, people have to travel to get important memories” (p 35).

Author fact: you would never know Howard Norman was born in Toledo, Ohio.

Book trivia: Bird Artist is the first in a trilogy. This is the only book I am reading for the Challenge.

Nancy said: Pearl said The Bird Artist is on her bookshelf and that she couldn’t imagine traveling to Newfoundland without reading it first. Of the trilogy, Pearl said The Bird Artist was the best. Finally, she included it in her list of books “not necessarily instructive on What Mother Ought Not to Do” (Book Lust p 160).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Newfoundland” (p 153). Bird Artist can also be found in abunch of place in Book Lust. First, in the chapter called “Canadian Fiction” (p 51), then in the chapter called “Mothers and Sons” (p 161), and in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade (1990s)” (p 179).

Villains Who Snapped My Back

Nazzareno, A.H. The Villains Who Snapped My Back. 2022.

Reason read: As a member of the Early Review program for LibraryThing, I occasionally review books. Mostly memoirs and first novels.

Villain or villains is Nazzareno’s favorite word. Never mind it is in the title of his medical memoir and in the title of almost every chapter. He uses it to describe a postal route, ghosts, drudgery, a devil’s march, various entities, word repetition, cartoon characters, culprits, his commute, and sheep…to name a few. A cackle is villainous. There are assassin-dream villains. Look out for the wrath of villains. They consume his existence. Villains rig the game, villains mutate, villians play tricks, villains effed with his world, villains just show up, villains take extended coffee breaks, villains toss dynamite, villains are picking pocks, villains are catching up, villains get cocky, villains collaborate, villains are addicted, villains are made from mattresses, villains are subtle and insiduous. They are shaped like sausages. Hmmm…There is a number one villain (and I’m still trying to figure out how that one outranks all the others) yet Nazzareno asks at one point, “who are the villains?” I thought he knew because there seem to be so many of them. He would like to disband the villains, evade the villains, use Mormons and marijuna to deter villains; I could go on and on.
I have lost all sense of time when I read Nazzareno. The timeline bounces and stories are jumbled. Casinos, mattresses, a car accident, repotting a tree, snowmobiling in Maine with the in-laws, buying different vehicles. A random turkey on his mail route. Maybe he is trying to figure out just when the back problems started. Was it the car seat not being comfortable enough or that time he slid off the roof when trying to avoid an ice dam? Or the time he had to bury the cat in the yard? If I had a dollar for every time he mentioned the student loan…
Odly enough, my favorite parts are when he is describing his beloved southwest. I felt for him when a goverment job lands him and his partner in Virginia, or hvaing to shovel snow off a roof in Massachusetts, far away from the deserts of Arizona. If you know a happy place, be there now.

Book trivia: The Villains Who Snapped My Spine includes an illustration of he Cursed Lincoln.

Author fact: Nazzareno is represented by a grainy image at the end of the book.

Playlist: Modest Mouse, Mozart, “The Minute Waltz”, and Matt Bellamy’s “Exogenesis: Symphony”.