Snake Pit

Undset, Sigrid. The Master of Hestviken: The Snake Pit. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962.

Reason read: to continue the series started in October with The Axe.

In this installment of the Master of Hestviken series readers get to know Olav Audunsson’s past as he has returned home to Hestviken; most importantly, how his mother died when Olav was only a month old, which explains how he came to live with Ingunn’s family. Speaking of Ingunn, when we left her in The Axe she had given her illegitimate child (Eirik) away to be fostered and went with Olav to his family home. Happily ever after? Not really. Olav is tortured by the fact he cannot seek absolution for the slaying of Ingunn’s baby daddy. No one can make even the connection between Teit and Ingunn because it was Teit who disgraced Ingunn. Meanwhile, Ingunn as of late is either pregnant, miscarrying, or otherwise deathly ill. In fact, for a good portion of The Snake Pit Ingunn is very sick. Towards the end of the book after the successful birth of her daughter Cecilia (finally!) she lies bedridden for over three years, crippled by some mysterious paralysis. Yet, through it all, despite it all, deep down Olav still loves her.

As an aside, one has to forgive Undset’s language. In this current culture struggling with equality and inclusion, the reader must stoically ignore the misogynistic behavior and attitude of Olav towards his wife, the one he anticipates “will be in his power” because she is “weak.” Quite a bit of gender bashing occurs.

Author fact: Undset also published a diary called Return to the Future (also on my Challenge list).

Book trivia: Snake Pit is the shortest installment of the Master of Hestviken series. Additionally, characters from Undset’s other series make a small appearance at the end of Snake Pit. Lavransdatter’s father helps Olav get home to his wife.

Nancy said: Pearl said Snake Pit was a masterpiece.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Norway: Land of the Midnight Sun” (p 162).


Four Corners

Salak, Kira. Four Corners: Into the Heart of New Guinea: One Woman’s Solo Journey.
Salak, Kira. Four Corners: One Woman’s Solo Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 2001.

Reason read: November is supposedly a really good time to visit Papua New Guinea, if you enjoy that kind of dangerous travel.
Confessional: I started reading the uncorrected proof of this memoir before receiving the published version.

There is no doubt Kira Salak is a strong woman. As an eleven year old kid her father taught her how to handle a gun. She remembers her father encouraging his young daughter to aim between the eyes. All her life Kira considered herself tough, wanting to be a soldier, a warrior of Green Beret quality. For all of her courage, time and time again while reading Four Corners I was struck dumb by her seat-of-her-pants travel style in Papua New Guinea. Salak travels beyond the outer reaches of civilization because she has an inexplicable calling to do so. It seems incredulous one could be so naive about everything, including basic survival skills for the jungles of Papua New Guinea. Salak goes into the region without a clear plan or even a way to support herself should the missionaries and locals refuse to ensure her safe passage regardless of the money and/or gifts she has to offer. She’s a creative writing student with no concrete connection to why she is there. Other reviewers of Four Corners called Salak “lucky.” She is that and then some!

I love it when a book makes me curious about other things. After reading Four Corners I had to research Well’s morlocks and Christian’s mutineers.

Quotes I had to quote, “Sometimes our lives are chosen for us, and we have about as much control over the matter as we do the situation we’re born into” (p 13), “Living is nothing but an attempt to champion the choice you’ve made” (p 148), “I am looking at hate, a hate so deep it’s palpable” (p 168).

Author fact: Salak has her own website and the photos I was hoping to see in Four Corners can be found here.

Book trivia: I was hoping for pictures (since the cover is so interesting) but none were included. See comment above.

Nancy said: Pearl had a different title for this book, Four Corners: A Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea. Pearl also said “for a goodly dash of [great beauty and danger] try Four Corners (Book Lust To Go p 150).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the super simple chapter called New Guinea (p 150).


Sporting Club

McGuane, Thomas. The Sporting Club. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1968.

Reason read: The Mackinac Bridge was built in November of 1957.

To be honest with you, I’m not really sure what this book was trying to say. I could spout off about a general plot, the characters and the like, but really I don’t know if I landed on the reality what I read.
You have Vernon Stanton and James Quinn for main characters. All Quinn wants to do is be a gentleman and have gentlemanly sex with Janey or anyone who will have him, but unfortunately he keeps running into trouble with loose cannon Stanton; constantly getting caught up in the childish antics of his childhood chum. Stanton is a millionaire with a nasty habit of picking up dueling pistols at the slightest provocation. His behavior is often times outrageous and crass. I couldn’t land on a solid plot that made sense and I couldn’t find any redeeming qualities in the characters I met. There was an abundance of posturing, butt sniffing, and pardon my language, dick measuring. Luckily, it was a short read.

Quote I happened to like, “He was close enough to his success to be spurred on by amazement” (p 22).

Author fact: McGuane is better known for his third book, Ninety-Two in the Shade (also on my Challenge list and completed) which was nominated for a National Book Award in 1974.

Book trivia: The Sporting Club is McGuane’s first novel.

Nancy said: Pearl called the fiction of McGuane “exquisitely tough and gritty” (p 101).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Gone Fishin'” (p 100). I have to say The Sporting Club doesn’t really belong in this chapter. The sport of fishing does take place in the book but not often enough.


November Nope

I don’t have writer’s block. I have writer’s apathy. I have nothing to say. Here are the books already underway for November:

Fiction:

  • The Sporting Club by Thomas McGuane – in honor of the Mackinac bridge being built in November of 1957.
  • The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak – I needed an author with my same initials for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.

Nonfiction:

  • Four Corners: a Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea by Kira Salak – in honor of November being a decent time to visit PNG…if you are into that sort of thing.
  • Israel is Real: an Obsessive Quest to Understand the Jewish Nation and Its History by Rich Cohen – in recognition of Resolution 181.
  • Silverland: a Winter Journey Beyond the Urals by Dervla Murphy – in honor of Murphy’s birth month.

Series continuation:

  • Master of Hestviken: the Snake Pit by Sigrid Undset – to continue the series started in October. I needed a translated book written by a woman. Voila!
  • Echo Burning by Lee Child – to continue the series started in July in honor of New York becoming a state.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • Teaching Empathy: Strategies for Building Emotional Intelligence in Today’s Children by Suzanna Hershon, PhD.

October Okay

Fiction:

  • The Master of Hestviken: the Axe by Sigrid Undset.
  • October Light by John Gardner.
  • Jamesland by Michelle Huneven.
  • The Chronicle of the Seven Sorrows by Patrick Chamoiseau.
  • Isabel’s Bed by Elinor Lipman.

Nonfiction:

  • Wyoming Summer by Mary O’Hara.
  • Obsession with Butterflies by Sharman Apt Russell.

Series continuation:

  • Running Blind by Lee Child.

Early Review for LibraryThing

  • Lou Reed: Notes From the Velvet Underground by Howard Sounes.

Chronicle of the Seven Sorrows

Chamoiseau, Patrick. Chronicle of the Seven Sorrows. Translated by Linda Coverdale. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska, 1988.

Reason read: October is the month to celebrate Magical Realism.

The spiritual awakenings of the long dead undead and the magical presence of the beam of everlasting moonlight across the wayward ocean of the Caribbean. Siloce, Hepla, Kouli, Mam Elo, Ti-Boute, Fefee Celie, Anatase, Ti-Choute, Bidjoule, and all the others thread their way through witchcraft markets teeming with childbirth and djobbers like Didon, Sirop, Pin-Pon, Lapochide, Sifilon and our hero, Pipi Soleil. It takes thirty pages to get to Pipi Soleil through abundant pregnancies and whatnot, but Pipi as as king of the wheelbarrow takes center stage. The first thing you need to understand is this is a story told by ghosts and witchcraft and moves back and forth through time as though sequence is of no matter, because it isn’t. Spanning thirty years from the mid 1940s to the mid 1970s, Martinique’s Fort-de-France teems full of djobbers, independent transporters of wares and Pipi Soleil rules them all. He once hauled his wares by boat but after one particularly stormy night he gave up the sea for a wheelbarrow. Even if the plot does not grab you, the lyrical writing will.

Confessional: I have said this before. I am not a good reader of magical realism. I find myself annoyed by the seemingly unrelated fantastical. Seems like more of a trick to me than a treat.

Lines I lived, “She was going to grab fate, she said, by a different end” (p 18), “the young couple made their love debut in this setting – which isn’t of the slightest importance” (p 29), and “She dumped out a big basket of weariness and brought laughter and smiles back form some lost corner of her mind” (p 85).

Author fact: Chronicle of the Seven Sorrows was Chamoiseau’s first novel.

Book trivia: Chronicle of the Seven Sorrows was first published in France in 1986.

Nancy said: Peal called Chronicle of the Seven Sorrows a “vivid” novel.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Contradictory Caribbean: Paradise and Pain” (p 55).


Lou Reed: Notes from the Velvet Underground

Confessional: I had a really hard time reading about Lou Reed. I had always heard stories about his despicable character and was hoping most of it was a lot of bunk; I wanted it to be that Lou felt he had to keep up a persona cultivated by his involvement with Andy Warhol and the drug infested 1960s. I was wrong. He was a dick seemingly from birth.
There is no doubt Sounes is very sympathetic towards Reed and his less than admirable character. He made excuses for his bad behavior throughout the entire book, calling Reed a “provocateur extraordinaire” as early as the high school years. It is very obvious Lou loved to push buttons early on and did not care in the very least about the consequences. It was if he had a bone to pick with the entire world and spent his entire life trying to get even. He was a troublemaker. He was mean. He acted strange. He was often cranky. Drugs made him even more paranoid than he naturally was. He was a chauvinist and had a thing against women. He welcomed violence against women and had a habit of smashing, shoving, smacking, slapping them. At times Sounes seems conflicted. He states Reed clearly meant to project an image by being a prick, but in the very same sentence admits Reed was the person he projected (p 160).
Reed and his “provocateur extraordinaire” personality aside, Sounes’s exhausted research and attention to detail jumps out of every page of the biography. You can smell the grit of New York’s grungy streets and feel the beer soaked stickiness of the music scene. Warhole, Nico, Bowie, Iggy…they all live and breathe with vibrancy in Lou Reed. It’s as if Sounes bottled their souls and that alone makes the read worth it.