All My Friends are Going to be Strangers

McMurtry, Larry. All My Friends are Going to be Strangers. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1972.

Reason read: Larry McMurtry’s birthday is in June so read in his honor.

I honestly couldn’t decide if I liked twenty-something Danny Dent. When we first meet the young writer, he is explaining how he went to Auston, Texas, and fell in love with a super beautiful woman named Sally. Sally had been the on and off girlfriend of another man but somehow Danny steals her away. From there, Danny’s life is a series of drunken ups and downs. Despite his first novel being so wildly successful it gets picked up for a movie deal, he can’t say the same for the rest of his life. There is a distinct dissatisfaction with everything. The plot meanders along as Danny tries to make sense of the relationships (mostly with women) in his life. It is nothing but a string of sexual escapades with different women and trying to work on a second novel. I was borderline bored the entire time.

Lines I liked, “Western Union and Southwestern Bell had combined to keep me faithful, at least for one evening” (p 24), “They left their questions in the same place I left my explanations” (p 67), and “I was too pinched by the newness of things just to go out on the street and seize people and make them my friends” (p 90).

Author fact: McMurtry just died this past March at the age of 84 years old.

Book trivia: All My Friends are Going to be Strangers is McMurtry’s sixth book.

Playlist: Fats Domino.

Nancy said: Pearl named All My Friends are Going to be Strangers as one of her three favorite books by McMurtry.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Texas Two-Step (After a Bob Wills Song)” (p 224).


Bad Haircut

Perrotta, Tom. Bad Haircut: Stories of the Seventies. New York: Berkey Books, 1994.

Reason read: June is short story month.

Comprised of ten short stories:

  • The Wiener Man – Your past is never far behind you. A mother connects with an old friend.
  • Thirteen – Coming of age is terrible when trying to help a best friend get the girl.
  • Race Riot – Which side are you on? Racial tensions and peer pressure and a bad combination.
  • Snowman – revenge is not as sweet as you think.
  • Forgiveness – standing for the flag is a choice.
  • A Bill Floyd Christmas – Bill loses his wife and latches on to another family to fill the void.
  • You Start to Live – take chances in life.
  • The Jane Pasco Fan Club – Dating in high school can be dangerous.
  • Just the Way We Were – prom memories.
  • Wild Kingdom – sometimes people can be animals.

Lines I liked: “The world was a still as a photograph” (p 61) and “She had that voice special tone of voice that she only used when she had company,” (p 119).

Author fact: Perrotta is from New Jersey.

Book trivia: all of the short stories are linked and are in chronological order.

Setlist: “We May Never Pass This Way Again,” Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are,” Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” The Carpenters, Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Donny Osmond, Aerosmith, Grateful Dead, a couple of Jim Croce songs, “I’ve got a Name” and “Operator.”

Nancy said: Pearl called Bad Haircut “heartfelt yet unsentimental.”

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Near Novels: Linked Short Stories” (p 175).


Love in the Time of Cholera

Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. Love in the Time of Cholera. Translated by Edith Grossman. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.

Reason read: June is the most popular month for marriage.

Confessional: I have a way more personal connection to this story than I rightly should. To scratch the surface and say I love John Cusack’s movies should suffice. If you haven’t seen Serendipity, suspend your belief in reality and let yourself get lost in the possibility of things happening for a reason no matter how absurd.

The game of chess is like the game of love, one strategic move at a time. Who waits for over fifty-three years to possess the woman of another? Fear not! Florentino Ariza has not waited patiently or chastely for Fermina. Despite staying in the town of their romance, Florentino has womanized his way across a broken heart. All the while he has never forgotten the girl who stole his soul so completely as a young man. Fermina Daza, for her part, has gone on to marry the region’s most distinguished men and remains brutally loyal all the days of her marriage. Star crossed lovers from the start, Florentino and Fermina orbit one another. This is the time of cholera. The illness mimics the passions of love with burning fevers and uncontrolled trembling.

When I am eighty-one years old will my spouse know my routine so well he can send a message to the correct location just by noting the time of day?

Quotes to quote, “She did not permit herself the vulgarity of remorse” (p 182),”Years later, when Florentino Ariza had the resources to publish the book himself, it was difficult for him to accept the reality that love letters had gone out of fashion” (p 208).

Author fact: Marquez was exiled in Europe in the mid-1950s for writing articles which had upset the Columbian government.

Book trivia: Love in the Time of Cholera in part tells the story of Maquez’s parents.

Playlist: Mozarts’ “La Chasse,” Schubert’s “Death and the Marden,” “In Questa Tomba Oscura,” “When I Wake Up in Glory,” Enrico Caruso,

Nancy said: Pearl said absolutely nothing specific about Love in the Time of Cholera.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Latin American Fiction” (p 145).


Feed

Anderson, M.T. Feed. Read by David Aaron Baker. New York: Random House Listening Library, 2002.

Reason read: May is considered Birds and Bees month and since teenagers have raging hormones I thought I would combine the two and read Feed.

Confessional: I am not a big fan of futuristic, dystopian novels. Feed is Anderson’s commentary of big corporation greed and its power over society in the form of extreme consumerism. Additionally, information technology and data mining are taken further by the invention of a brain-implanted feed network capable of scanning and collecting people’s thoughts and feelings and regurgitated back as commercials. Told from the first person perspective of Titus, we meet Linc (cloned after Abraham Lincoln), Marty (the guy with the Nike speech tattoo which causes him to insert the word Nike into every sentence), Loga (ex-girlfriend of Titus), Calista (the first girl to get lesions as a fashion statement) and Violet (Titus’s new girlfriend and the one to reveal the dangers of the feed). Violet is the most interesting of the group. As an underprivileged teen, she did not get a feed insert until she was older. This causes malfunctioning and Violet’s ability to “fight” the feed. Although it is a predictable ending, I appreciated Anderson’s reality of the situation.

As an aside, definitely find the audio book read by David Aaron Baker. It is a spectacular performance.

The popularity of having lesions to the point of creating them reminded me of the Seuss book, Gertrude McFuzz, the story about the bird who wanted glorious tail feathers and got so greedy collecting them she could no longer fly.

Author fact: Anderson also write Thirsty which is on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: Feed was a National Book Award finalist and winner of the Boston Globe Horn Book Award and the Golden Duck Award (Hal Clement).

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Feed except to include it in the list of sure teen-pleasers.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Teens” (p 23).


Testament of Youth

Brittain, Vera. Testament of Youth: the Autobiographical Study of the Years 1900 – 1925. New York: MacMillan Company, 1937.

Reason read: The United States entered World War I on April 6th, 1917. Additionally, I needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge in the category of historical event.

Confessional: this took me a long time to finish.

The world can thank Vera Brittain for keeping a detailed diary during World War I. Through her writings, Brittain is able to not only give a personal account of how the war changed her life, but the impact the conflict had on the world at large around her. When she says the war “smashed her youth” and “interrupted her personal plans” you get the sense of the level of personal destruction the violence left in its wake. She led a sheltered life in England, never leaving the country until she was twenty-one. She had both a brother and a fiancĂ© serve in the war. Through their letters and poems, how they were affected by the conflict represents how a good majority of the soldiers coped with battle. In order to feel closer to her brother and fiancĂ©, Vera volunteered to darn socks, but as the war dragged on, the desire to “do something more” led her to sign up as a probationer in a hospital. There she had an up close and personal view of war’s terrible price. There is a growing sense of dread when Brittain describes reading the list of casualties and not having a single word from loved ones. The war matures Brittain. At the start of the conflict she naively hoped Roland would suffer a war wound so they could see each other. After some time changing the dressings of the amputees Brittain realizes she couldn’t wish that kind of horror on anyone.
Brittain’s autobiography continues after the war has ended and the struggle to return to civilian life becomes a reality. She has lost everyone she loved, friends and family alike.

As an aside, it is unclear if Vera was agnostic before the war or if the tragedies in France solidified an already growing idea idea.

Quotes to quote, “Someone is getting hell, but it isn’t you – yet,” (p 150), “Truly war had made masochists of us all” (p 154), “Too angry and miserable to be shy any more, we clung together and kissed in forlorn desperation” (p 189), “The world was mad and we were all victims, that was the only way to look at it” (p 376) and “I was not the culprit, for I was still too deeply and romantically in love with a memory to have any appetite for sexual unorthodoxies, but I am not sure that I should have owned up if I had been” (p 328).
Here is the sentence that had the most profound effect on me, “I entirely failed to notice the assassination on the previous morning, of a European potentate whose name was unknown to me, in a Balkan town of which I had never heard” (p 85).

Author fact: Even though Brittain is best known for her autobiographies she was also an accomplished poet.

Book trivia: Brittain includes a great deal of poetry from several different poets. Testament of Youth was a Masterpiece Theater dramatic series present on PBS by WGBH in Boston.

Playlist: “Elizabeth’s Prayer,” “Jewel Song,” “Clair de Lune,” “Te Deum Patreum Colimus,” “L’Envoi,” “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” “If You Were the Only Girl in the World,” “We are Soldiers of the Queen, Me Lads,” “Good-bye Dolly, I Must Leave You,” “When the Heart is Young,” “Whisper and I Shall Hear,” “Distant Shore,” “Robert the Devil,” “Dreaming,” “The Vision of Salome,” “Elgar’s Lament for the Fallen,” Beethoven’s 7th Sonata, Verdi’s Requiem, Bram’s Requiem, “Sweet Early Violets,” “Down in the Forest,” “Auld Lang Syne,” “O Hel-, O Hel-“

Nancy said: Pearl called Testament of Youth “moving.” She also called it “One of the finest accounts ever written of World War I” (More Book Lust p 155).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “World War I Nonfiction” (p 251). Again in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Living Through War” (p 154).


Onions in the Stew

MacDonald, Betty. Onions in the Stew. Philadelphia: JB Lippincott, 1954.

Reason read: to finished the series started in April in honor of Humor Month.

In truth, Onions in the Stew can be read independently of any other Betty MacDonald memoir. All three are very different from one another. Onions in the Stew tells of the period in MacDonald’s life when she and her children, with her second husband, buy a house on Vashon Island in Puget Sound. It starts off as a humorous commentary on island living but morphs into the trials and tribulations of raising two teenager daughters who just have to rebel against everything you want for them. By the end of it, the reader can’t help but sigh. MacDonald blends just the right amount of laugh-out-oud funny with sweet poignancy. This was my favorite of the three memoirs by far.

Author fact: MacDonald might be better known for her Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle stories for children, but Onions in the Stew was delightful.

Book trivia: Onions in the Stew is another memoir about Betty MacDonald’s life. The Egg and I and The Plague and I are two others. These do not necessarily need to be read in order to be fully enjoyed.

Playlist: “Tangerine,” “Rock of Ages,” “You’re Mine, You,” “Embraceable You,” “Sweet Lorraine,” “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home,” “Paper Moon,” Frank Sinatra, Frankie Laine, Billie Holliday, and King Cole.

Nancy said: Pearl mentioned Onions in the Stew as one of those books that will be so funny you will fall off your chair from laughing.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Tickle Your Funny Bone” (p 218).


The Town

Richter, Conrad. The Town. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970.

Reason read: to finish the series started in March in honor of Ohio becoming a state.

When we rejoin Sayward she is in her late forties and has given birth to ten children. Nine have survived. She is witness to the transformation of the wilderness into a civilized community but she can remember when she started her young life in the deep woods of Ohio with trees all around. In awe she watches as the necessities of a communal existence blossom into a church, school, meeting house, and grist mill. The canal becomes a focal point as brick structures replace wooden ones. She can remember when it all started – her family looking to stave off hunger by pushing west in the hopes of cultivating richer soils into bountiful gardens. The Trees told of isolation while The Fields saw settlements encroaching on the family’s privacy until finally they realized the need for one another was a good thing and the Town is born.
Even though most of Sayward’s children are grown with families of their own, in The Town the reader spends the majority of time with Sayward’s youngest child, Chancey. He is a strange child, afraid of everything; paranoid and preferring to be alone. He is so dissimilar to his siblings he strongly believes he is adopted. His failure to understand any member of his family is borderline obsessive. When meeting strangers he even gives them a false name. His claims his weak heart doesn’t allow him to walk very far. Soon a dark family secret turns out to be his greatest heartbreak. Honestly, I found him to be a difficult character to like.
Interesting to note: Portius is initially overlooked for a position as judge because of his agnostic views.
I don’t think it is a spoiler to say the mysterious disappearance of Sulie in The Trees is finally resolved in The Town.

Quote I liked, “She seemed to be writing on the night” (p 305).

Setlist: “Fly Up,” “The Lady of Loti Polka,” “On Nesbo’s Lovely Mount,” “Moses’s Funeral March,” and “The River Between.”

Author fact: Richter was born in Pennsylvania but moved to New Mexico.

Book trivia: The Town received a Pulitzer Prize.

Nancy said: Pearl said Richter’s stories have to be read in order.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Big Ten Country: the Literary Midwest (Ohio)” (p 30).


Third Helpings

Trillin, Calvin. Third Helpings. New Haven: Ticknor & Fields, 1983.

Reason read: to finish the Tummy Trilogy started in March in honor of National Food Month.

Trillin is at it again with a third and final installment of the Tummy Trilogy; another series of essays all about his idea of good eating. Third Helpings starts with Trillin’s belief that Spaghetti Carbonara should be the national dish at Thanksgiving. It’s a quirky idea, but I get his point. Fourteen essays follow.
The more I read Trillin, the more I admire his wife and her ability to travel to strange lands to eat even stranger foods without complaint, but my favorite character was Mrs. Rome. The list of food she sampled between pages 97-99 is very impressive. It is no wonder she gained nine pounds on that trip!

Irony: the last chapter of Third Helpings is about Crescent City, Florida. I guess there used to be a big catfish festival along the St. John River. At the time I was finishing Third Helpings I was in Florida, not far from Crescent City.

Author fact: According to IMDB, Calvin Trillin is also an actor. What the what? He was in Sleepless in Seattle. Mind blown.

Book trivia: Third Helpings is the final book in the Tummy Trilogy, but Trillin has also written a memoir about his father and a few books about his wife, Alice. None of those books are on my Challenge list.

Playlist: “Oh Marie,” “Tell Me That You Love Me,” “The Streets of Laredo,” “Rock Around the Clock,” “Moon Over Miami,” and “Let’s Go To the Hop.”

Nancy said: Pearl called Trillin’s essays “treasures.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Food for Thought” (p 91).


Personal Finance QuickStart Guide

Rochard, Morgen. Personal Finance QuickStart Guide: the Simplified Beginner’s Guide to Eliminating Financial Stress, Building Wealth, and Achieving Financial Freedom. ClydeBank Media, 2020.

Reason read: as a member of the Early Review program for LibraryThing, I was chosen to receive this e-book in exchange for an honest review.

Honestly, from the moment I downloaded this book I was rubbed the wrong way. I am not a big fan of “gotcha” moments. The first thing I was confronted with when starting to read Personal Finance QuickStart Guide was the words “Free Digital Assets” followed by “must be a first time Audible user; $15/mo. easy cancel anytime.” I read that to mean there was free content available to the reader, but said reader had to sign up for Audible (new subscribers only!) and a credit card would automatically be charged $15 every month unless one remembered to cancel the subscription in time. And! And. And, when they have to say “easy” cancel anytime, I’m thinking maybe it’s not all that easy. So. There’s that. Back to the review:

Rochard organized Personal Finance into two parts: Part 1 is an attempt to jump start personal finance improvement and learn how to navigate the financial world so that investment options become easier to understand. Part 2 is to confront financial problems and overcome them with confidence.
To fully review this book I had wanted to put into practice all of the advice and suggestions Rochard put out there – just to say what worked and what didn’t. I didn’t have time. For the most part, it all seemed like common sense. For example, take the very first scenario in the book: if you are going to drop down to one income and not change your expenses, you most definitely are headed for disaster. I did take note of the resources Rochard cited and do plan to read them for further information. [As an aside, when I lost my job for five months in the early stages of Covid my husband and I immediately suspended some luxuries, looked into every cost saving measure we could; even considered making hard decisions about retirement plans. It seemed like the right thing to do. Actually, it was the only thing to do at the time.]


Unsung Hero

Brockmann, Suzanne. Unsung Hero. New York: Ivy Books, 2000.

Reason read: May is Brockmann’s birth month. Read in her honor.

Back in 2008 I read Defiant Hero, starring Navy SEAL Lieutenant John. Then in 2011 I read Out of Control with the dashing Navy SEAL Ken Karmody. This time we have Navy SEAL Tom Paoletti in Unsung Hero.
Most of Brockmann’s romances have these common details: Navy SEALs, kidnappings, an important grandmother, a terrorist or two, great looking people with hard bodies, and let’s not forget roiling sexual turmoil. Unsung Hero is no different. Tom Paoletti and Kelly Ashton’s conundrum is that they have history dating back to high school: Kelly was too young for next door neighbor Tom so he ran away to join the military a month early. Sweet and innocent Kelly was left with unrequited teenager lust never to be forgotten. But now, sixteen years later, Kelly is all grown up and just happens to be visiting her father. Tom is also back in town trying to convalesce after getting caught in a bomb blast. Kelly never lost the burn for Tom, so much so that even though her father is dying of terminal cancer, all she can think about is getting the doomed man back in bed. She needs to return to her fantasy about Tom and his um…hard body as soon as possible. Even though Tom is damaged goods, his one track mind is no better. He too carries the long burning torch of lust. He eyeballs Kelly’s perfect ass as they blithely discuss her father’s terminal cancer. Insert eye roll here. So sex aside, while Tom is home he catches a glimpse of a terrorist long thought dead. His superiors think the bomb has altered his reality and refuse to take him seriously, leaving Tom no choice but to cobble together his own counterterrorist team to take the man down.

Author fact: I think I read this on a Wiki page: Brockmann dropped out of college to join a band. How cool is that?

Book trivia: Unsung Hero is actually the first book in the Troubleshooters, Inc. Novel series. I read them out of order and like an idiot didn’t catch on that a plot with the same characters just might be a series. Duh.

Nancy said: I like what Pearl said about Brockmann’s novels. She said Brockmann gives a “female slant to the James Bond ethos.” The characters are “sharply drawn” and the reading of her work is “interesting.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romance Novels: Our Love is Here To Stay” (p 203).


Hot Six

Evanovich, Janet. Hot Six. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2001.

Reason read: to continue the series started in January in honor of Female Mystery Month.

This time, Ranger is the one being hunted. A rookie cop arrested Ranger for carrying a concealed weapon without a license. Everyone knows to let Ranger do his own thing only the rookie didn’t get the memo. Ranger gets into further trouble when he is seen on surveillance camera entering a building with a man who is later found with a bullet hole in his head and partially burned. Looks like an open and shut case because everyone knows Ranger is not above killing people.
Every time we meet up with Stephanie Plum you can bet a destroyed vehicle or two or three will be in her wake. This time the nest one is a Rollswagon, part old fashioned Volkswagen Beetle and part Rolls Royce. One hundred percent vintage. Never heard of one. Stephanie doesn’t have it for more than an hour before she’s attacked by someone driving a Crown Vic. What else is new? She bumbles her way through cases, same as ever or as she says, “Then you have to pee and you miss a double homicide” (p 77).
All the usual characters are still around: Vinnie, Lula, Connie, Joe, even Grandmas Mazur who still frequents wakes and funerals for kicks and is now going for her own driver’s license. The bad guys are still ransacking Stephanie’s apartment while her hamster, Rex, runs frantically on his exercise wheel.
The problem with reading the Stephanie Plum series back to back to back is that the plot formula becomes a schtick. Stephanie is a food motivated, bumbling beginner bounty hunter, who always gets her man. Plot twist: Stephanie inherits a dog and things heat up with Morelli and Ranger.

Let’s do a cousin count: We know Stephanie’s cousin Shirley is married to Gazarra. Cousin Maureen works at the button factory. Cousin Janine works at the post office. Cousin Marion works at the bank. In Hot Six we learn Shirley is a whiner and Stephanie has a cousin Bunny who works at the credit union. There’s another cousin named Evelyn. Let’s not forget cousin Vinny!

Best line, “Getting shot, no matter how minor the wound, is not conducive to clear thinking” (p 403).

Author fact: Janet has used the pen name Steffie Hall.

Book trivia: to count there are twenty-five Stephanie Plum mysteries. Hot Six is well…number six. Duh.

Nancy said: Pearl said Evanovich’s books couldn’t be called mysteries because they were too funny.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Ms. Mystery” (p 169).


Abraham Lincoln: the Prairie Years, Vol II

Sandburg, Carl. Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Yeas, Volume Two. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1926.

Reason read: to continue the series started in February in honor of Lincoln’s birth month.

When we delve back into Sandburg’s volume two of Abraham Lincoln: the Prairie Years Lincoln is now in his forties. He is a family man. His political life is becoming more and more entangled with his career as a lawyer. His direct, plain-speaking, and honest approach has people trusting him and he soon has a following of stump-speech fans. In the courtroom, his ability to deliver calm closing arguments that sway even the toughest juries has people wanting him to run for President of the United States. As Sandburg eloquently put it, “His words won him hearts in unknown corners of far-off places” (p 155). His role as a leader of our country is starting to come into shape.
[As an aside, it was interesting that I was reading about town gossip while at a salon getting my hair cut. There is no better place to hear tongues wagging than in a salon (except maybe in a bar).]

Author fact: Carl and his wife were married just shy of 60 years.

Book trivia: Best part of the book was when Lincoln was having a conversation with a goat. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud, thinking of tall, gangling Abraham bending low to converse with an animal.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about either volume of Abraham Lincoln: the Prairie Years.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade: 1920s” (p 176).


The Dog Next Door

Robertson, Keith. The Dog Next Door. New York: Viking Press, 1950.

Reason read: April is National Dog Month. For the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge I needed a book with an animals in the title.

Thirteen year old Hal has wanted a dog all of his life. His neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Perkins, have never wanted a dog in their lives. Ever. Unfortunately, Mrs. Aylesworth, boxer breeder and sister to Mrs. Perkins, unceremoniously sends the Perkins a beautiful dog named Beau as a gift. So begins a dilemma with a seemingly easy fix: the Perkins should give Hal the dog. Right? Only, Hal’s parents think a dog would be too much responsibility for Hal and the Perkins, knowing Beau is a pure bred, think he could be sold for a lot of money (once they get over the guilt of selling a gift). Stalemate. As a consolation prize, Hal’s parents tell him he can build a treehouse in the back yard complete with a telescope. With the help of elderly boat builder and friend, Mr. Seward, Hal not only builds a shipshape treehouse, he develops a keen sense of responsibility. He watches helplessly as Beau, the new canine about town, is blamed for dog fights and attacks on community members. Beau is getting the reputation of being a vicious dog. Hal needs to set the record straight, but how?
The Dog Next Door was beautifully yet sparsely illustrated by Morgan Dennis. I wish there had been more illustrations.

Author fact: Robertson has written other books, but The Dog Next Door is the only one I am reading for the Book Lust Challenge.

Book trivia: This was a hard book to find. Not many libraries had it on their shelves. As an aside, my edition (published in 1950) had seen better days. It had pen marks, rips and holes.

Nancy said: Pearl mentioned The Dog Next Door when reminiscing about the books she used to read as a child. I have to admit, it was cool to hold a book old enough that my dad could have read the same copy. He would have been twelve years old and definitely interested in reading about a boy who longed for a boat and a dog of his own.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Great Dogs in Fiction” (p 104). Both Keith and the title of his book were left out of the index.


The Blessing

Orr, Gregory. The Blessing: a Memoir. San Francisco: Council Oaks Books, 2002.

Reason read: April is National Poetry Month. Gregory Orr is known for his fantastic poetry.

This is Gregory Orr’s painful memoir of not only the terrible moment when he shot his brother to death in a hunting accident, but the uncharacteristic way he and his family, tight lipped and stoic, dealt with the pain. Only one week after the tragedy the Orr children were back in school as if nothing happened. Gregory was in the seventh grade at this point. When Orr’s father uprooted the family and took them to Haiti, Gregory, as an adult, is able to look back at the episode and as delve briefly into Haiti’s turbulent political history and conflicting cultures (a mention of Castro and Papa Doc Duvalier) as a perfect comparison to his own family’s unsettled time. It is unbelievable, but even more tragedy followed the Orr family after arriving in Haiti. Once in full adulthood, Orr tries to make sense of his past and his responses to all of its shocking heartache. For example – when his mother died, none of her children were invited to the funeral. Father, a man Gregory once worshiped and wanted all to himself, is later described as having “not a nurturing bone in his body.” What father gives bottles of amphetamines as going away presents to his son while he carrying on a relationship with a girl barely older than Gregory? All of this sounds like a book unbearable to read. It is not. In the end, Gregory is able to find his way through the maze of mixed emotions and come out with the determination to become an accomplished poet.

Lines to ponder, “We were grateful to let something so mysterious and disturbing pass out of memory” (p 85), “Violent trauma shreds the web of meaning” (p 134), and “Poems are discrete artifacts of language that prove someone’s imagination and linguistic gifts have triumphed over disorder in a definitive, shaped way” (p 144-145).

Playlist: “Ti Oiseau,” “Greensleeves,”Somnambule Ballad,” “Keep Your Eye on the Prize,” “Aint Gonna Study War No More,” “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” “Birmingham Jail,” “We Belong to a Mutual Admiration Society (My Baby and Me),” “We shall Overcome.” Fats Domino, Chubby Checker, Bob Dylan.

To look up: To Die in Madrid: a documentary on the Spanish Civil War and the sculptor, David Smith.

Author fact: Orr also wrote The Caged Owl which is also on my Challenge list. It will be interesting to read the poetry now that I’ve read the memoir. Will I see hints of Orr’s personal life in his lines of poems?

Book trivia: There are no photographs in Orr’s memoir.

Nancy said: Pearl included The Blessing in her list of “beautiful and moving memoirs by poets.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Prose By Poets” (p 194).


Cheaper by the Dozen

Gilbreth, Jr., Frank B. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. Cheaper by the Dozen. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1948.

Reason: April 1st is known as April Fools Day. Cheaper By the Dozen is a foolish story.

The parents of Frank and Ernestine make an interesting couple. She is a psychologist and he is a motion study engineer. Together, they work to make processes more efficient for various business and by default, their twelve children are efficiency aficionados. Why twelve children? As Mr. Gilbreth explains, they were “cheaper by the dozen.” It’s a running joke in the family. Be forewarned, the family has a lot of running jokes.
An example of making a process more efficient: Mr. Gilbreth evaluated surgeons during operations to make their procedures go smoother.
While the bulk of Gilbreth’s story is humorous, it must be said that at the time of writing no one thought it politically or socially incorrect to call a Native American a “red indian.”
I don’t want to give too much away, but the birth control scene was hysterical. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud more than once. And I don’t think it is a spoiler alert to say that I loved the ending. Mother Gilbreth steps fearlessly into her husband’s shoes and carries on the family business. Brilliant.

Favorite dad line, “Some simpleton with pimples in his voice wants to talk to Ernestine” (p 220).

Author fact: Frank and Ernestine are siblings and wrote the book together.

Book Audio trivia: my copy of the audio book was narrated by Dana Ivey and had music before each chapter.
Book trivia: Cheaper by the Dozen was made into a movie more than once. Myrna Loy starred in the first version. My music connection: Josh Ritter has a song called Myrna Loy and the print version was illustrated by Donald McKay.

Playlist: “stumbling,” “Limehouse Blues,” “Last night on the Back Porch,” “Charlie, My Boy,” I’m forever Blowing Bubbles,” “You’ve got to See Mama Every Night or You Can’t See Mama at All,” “Me and the Boy Friend,” “Clap Hands, Here Comes charlie,” “Jadda Jadda Jing Jing Jing.”

Nancy said: Pearl said Cheaper by the Dozen remains one of the funniest books ever.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Humor” (p 166).