Blind Heron

Tate, James. “The Blind Heron.” Shroud of the Gnome. New Jersey: Ecco Press, 1997. 11.

From just the title of Tate’s book I knew I would be in for a treat. I love 20th century poetry, especially when it has a sense of humor, a sense of the playful. Before I even got to “The Blind Heron” I read the table of contents and had a good laugh over some of the other poems: “Where Babies Come From” (made me think of that birds and bees talk – ahem!), “Restless Leg Syndrome”, “Shut Up and Eat Your Toad”, and “Sodomy in Shakespeare’s Sonnets”…I’ll have to blog about those at another time.
But, I will say this – Remember that scene in the movie ‘Tommy Boy’ when Tommy is trying to sleep at a motel. Richard keeps knocking on the door with different suggestive suggestions until finally, Tommy bolts out of bed yelling, “what kind of place is this?”? Well, that’s me with this collection of poetry. After seeing a poem called “In His Hut Sat Baba Jaga, Hag Faced” all I could ask was “what kind of poetry is this?!” The only answer: fun!

“Blind Heron” is clever and impish. Kiki is missing her cockatiel. Kiki is called a liar yet you, as the reader, are not really sure if that’s the truth. It’s more probable that you are only suppose to think of Kiki as a nontruth telling person because the poem concludes rather suddenly. Everything you thought you knew has been changed based on a confession.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter “Poetry Pleasers” (p 189).


Americanization of Benjamin Franklin


 
 

Wood, Gordon S. The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin. New York: Penguin, 2004.

Benjamin Franklin celebrates a birthday in January (on the 17th day in the year 1706 to be precise; in other words, today); hence my reading of his biography (one of many on my list).
Let me say first and foremost that Mr. Franklin is a personal hero of mine for advocating for libraries so much! If it were not for him who knows where my profession would be. I do not, however, approve of his treatment of his wife Deborah. Can you imagine being married to someone who insisted on living in a different country (and only returns home after your death)? Even Franklin’s friends made no mention of Deborah’s passing after he returned to America.
Wood’s biography deals mostly with Franklin’s political aspirations and most pointedly, his “switch” from supporting Britain to supporting America (hence “americanization” in the title). Of course, Franklin’s involvement in postal services and electricity were also touched upon, but only because they are important elements to Franklin’s history.

My favorite quotes:
“Things that struck him as new and odd were always worth thinking about, for experiencing them might advance the boundaries of knowledge” (p 62).
“…but Franklin thought the electrical charge necessary to kill large animals might end up killing the cook” (p 64).
“The degree of Franklin’s Revolutionary fervor and his loathing of the king surprised even John Adams, who was no slouch himself when it came to hating (p 154).

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust and the chapter called “Founding Fathers” (p 91).


The Book Lover’s Cookbook


Wenger, Shaundra Kennedy and Janet Kay Jensen. The Book Lover’s Cookbook: Recipes Inspired by Celebrated Works of Literature, and the Passages That Feature Them. New York: Ballantine Books, 2003.

I grazed on this book a while ago. The hardcover (borrowed) version sat on my desk for a few days and every so often I would pick it up, skim the pages, eye the recipes, until it was time to send it back. I couldn’t get into it because I was truly afraid I would mark up a book that wasn’t mine. I have that habit with cookbooks – writing in them. So, I sent it back, barely digested.
Fast forward to last year. Book Lover’s Cookbook was on The List. I was thinking I could call it accomplished until I remembered how I didn’t devour it.
Skip to this Christmas. My sister and brother-in-law gave me the softcover version and suddenly, I’m not only devouring the book I’m dedicated to cooking every recipe, reading every book mentioned. This version is mine, mine, mine and I can write in it all I want.

What is so special about this book is that it includes a variety of books and are not all standard Oprah favorites. There are classics, stories for children, chick lit, murder mysteries, nonfiction, and even poetry. Same goes for the dishes – they aren’t all typical recipes. There is something for everyone.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter “Dewey Deconstructed” (in the 600s, p72).


Fer-De-Lance


Stout, Rex. Fer-De-Lance. Pennsylvania: Franklin Library, 1934.When I saw this book arrive in the library van box for me I got very excited about the cover alone. It’s beautiful! I didn’t even know it was my requested book, just that it had a gorgeous cover. How’s that for judging a book by its cover? I have heard so much about Rex Stout and his Nero Wolfe mysteries but had never read one before now. I have to admit, I didn’t really care for the character of Mr. Wolfe. He seems to spend a lot of time bossing other people around while being very, very particular about his own activities. The story is actually told from the point of view of his assistant, Archie Goodwin, who seems to do all the legwork work solving mysteries since Wolfe never leaves home.

So, the plot to Fer-De-Lance is this: a man is found murdered. Clues in his room lead to the death of someone else. Ultimately, it’s the solving of the second death that leads to the truth of the first death. It’s a fun story. Here are some of my favorite quotes:
“I made some sort of conversation so O’Grady’s ears wouldn’t be disappointed” (p 39).
“Maybe your salary is the only rope that holds Saturday and Sunday together for you” (p 48).
“It is always wiser, where there is a choice, to trust inertia. It is the greatest force in the world” (p 190).
“A genius may discover the hidden secrets and display them, only a god could create new ones” (p 246).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust and the chapter “Rex Stout: Too Good To Miss”


24 hours

Iles, Greg. 24 Hours. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2000.

A kidnapping mystery set in Mississippi…sort of an odd read for the holiday season, but December is the month Mississippi became a state.
Here’s the storyline: Basically, this guy, Joe, has set up the perfect kidnapping scheme. He targets a doctor who has a spouse and child, learns all he can about the doctor’s family and then while the doc is at an annual convention he kidnaps his/her child. His cousin (a hulking man with the IQ of a chipmunk) holds the child in a remote location while his “wife” entertains the male parent and Joe entertains the female parent for 24 hours. They call each other every 30 minutes and if a call is missed Cousin Chipmunk kills the kid. In the AM one parent wires the ransom to the other parent so the kidnapper doesn’t have any connection to the withdrawal. The money is always an amount the doctor can afford and the kidnapping always works because the child is worth more than getting the money back or calling the police. The detail that makes the whole thing work are the every 30 minutes phone calls. Everything hinges on those calls and the convention – because the convention is the guarantee the doctor will be separated from the rest of the family for at least 24 hours.
Despite the brilliant plot I have two problems with detail. In the beginning both parents are told their family has been scrutinized and studied in great detail. The kidnappers claim to know everything about the family. If that is true then why did they not know their latest kidnapping victim was diabetic? If they knew everything how did they miss such a large piece of a child’s life? The second problem with detail is on page 164 – one of the kidnappers says “You have to chill, Will!” and is delighted by the rhyme of the doctor’s name, yet two pages later Iles writes, “Why don’t you at least face the truth about something, Will.” It was the first time she [the kidnapper] had used his Christian name” (p 166). No, actually it wasn’t. She told Will to chill two pages earlier. Ugh.
All in all, this moved fast and was a constant page turner. Every time I had to put it down I was at “the good part” and hated to stop reading. The end is a little over-the-top dramatic and there are loose ends, but well worth the read.

BookLust Twist: In More Book Lust in the “Southern Fried Fiction (Mississippi)” chapter (p 208).


Age of Grief

Smiley, Jane. The Age of Grief. New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1987.

A collection of short stories. Instead of summarizing them I have decided to quote my favorite lines instead because there was one from every story.

  • Pleasure of her company~ “I felt like your child or your sister or something”    (p 25).
  • Lily~ “Love was like an activity, you had to put in the hours” (p 33).
  • Jeffrey, Believe Me~ “Who can tell the lifelong effect of a cacophonous conception” (p 60), and “you would indeed be spending the night but in a near coma” (p 64).
  • Long Distance~ “Can a melancholy sound have a quality of desperation?” (p 71)
  • Dynamite~ “When they would ask me, I was fine, too, but I had the excuse of making bombs, something, I told myself, they didn’t want to know (p 96).
  • And finally, the novella, The Age of Grief~ I couldn’t find one or two quotesI liked best -too many to mention so I won’t mention at all; and I can’t tell you what I think of this final story. A dentist and his wife (also a dentist) go through the ups and downs of marriage & parenting. It’s haunting because I can’t imagine this kind of grief.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter “Big Ten Country: The Literary Midwest (Iowa)” (p 26).


The Body is Water

Schumacher, Julie. The Body is Water. New York: SoHo, 1995.

I love it when reading fits the day. I don’t know how to describe it other than the perfect marriage between a book and time. It was snowing, sleeting, windy and freezing cold. Every so often a gust of wind would send pellets of freezing rain drumming against the windows, yet the Christmas tree glowed softly, the cat purred at my feet, a balsam candle burned bright, a fleece blanket was thrown over my lap, a cup of tea at my elbow and I was content. If I could ignore the wind, all was quiet, all was still; the perfect time to lose myself in The Body is Water.
I’m still reading December picks and The Body is Water celebrates the month New Jersey became a state, oddly enough. It’s also the story of single and pregnant Jane, and her return to her New Jersey shore childhood home. In one sitting I read 184 of the 262 pages.

“All my life I’ve never been certain of where I should be” (p 20).
“In a crisis, other families probably rush to hold the ailing person’s hand; our family rushes to the general vicinity of the crisis and putters around, hoping the patient will spontaneously recover on her own” (p 61).
“No matter where I lived, I never knew my way around; there was no ocean, no rushing noise of a heartbeat from the east” (p 230).
“I start to cry, remembering the days before my mother died, before Bee slept in another room. That was when we loved each other best and didn’t know it” (p 262).

I ended this book sobbing. I connected with Jane even though she was the younger sister (Bee was four years older); even though Jane lost a mother and I lost a father; even though she became a mother and I remain sans motherhood. I connected through the simple loss of a parent, the soothing sound of the ocean, and the complex closeness of sisters.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lustin the chapter called “Jersey Guys and Gals” (p 129). This also could have been mentioned in chapter called “Maiden Voyages” (p 158) because this was Schmacher’s first novel.


Little Porcupine’s Christmas

Slate, Joseph. Little Porcupine’s Christmas. New York: Harper, 1982.

Cute. Cute. Cute! Felicia Bond illustrates this story and, for those of you who don’t know, Felicia Bond is the illustrator for another favorite of mine, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. This isn’t about a mouse. This time it’s a porcupine who can’t be in the school play because of his sharp and pointy quills. It’s a typical story about how cruel “kids” can be towards an outsider, But, but, but, in the end Little Pocupine prevails and proves his worth. The adult in me hates stories like this because the other animals are never corrected when they say “you’re too — to participate. You don’t belong,” all because he is different. I worry (too much) that kids reading the story will learn that it’s okay to push someone outside the popular circle because that someone is different. I’ve been there and it isn’t fun. But, that’s the stoic, always serious adult talking. Take the book at face value and it’s a cute story about someone who is unique finding his niche and belonging after all.
Note: This story is also called How Little Porcupine Played Christmas.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter “Christmas Books for the Whole Family to Read” (p 56). Pearl calls Little Porcupine “heartwarming.”


Miracle

Willis, Connie. Miracle and Other Christmas Stories. New York: Bantam, 2000.

A collection of short stories centered around Christmas.
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  • Miracle ~ Lauren reminds me of me. She’s well-meaning yet corner cutting when it comes to Christmas. Her cards go out on time and she buys gifts for everyone in the office yet something is missing. Enter Spirit of Christmas Present, a environmentally exuberant specter sent to show Lauren the real meaning of Christmas.
  • Inn ~This is an odd little story about a woman who, while in choir practice for her church pageant, discovers a homeless couple who turn out to be Joseph and Mary. That Joseph and Mary, lost on their way to Bethlehem.
  • In Coppelius’s Toyshop ~ This is one of my favorites. It’s so reminiscent of Will from About a Boy lost in a crazy, confusing, chaotic toystore. Throughout the whole thing I could imagine rows and rows and floors and floors of toys, games, puzzles, colors, lights, noises, and the sounds of children everywhere.
  • Pony~ Moral of the story: it is never too late to get the ultimate present of your dreams…even if you no longer want it.
  • Adaptation ~ An interesting twist on A Christmas Carol. A divorced father wants nothing more than to give his daughter the ultimate Christmas but work and his exwife have other plans.
  • Cat’s Paw ~ A famous detective has been sent to solve a mystery on Christmas Eve. A weird tale involving monkeys and murder. “We are all capable of murder. It’s in our genes” (p 208).
  • Newsletter ~ Has the world been taking over by a parasite that causes goodness and peace of earth? How can we take humanity that’s just a little more…well…human? Turns out, we can’t.
  • Epiphany ~ Another twist on a classic tale. Mel is convinced he has had an epiphany about the Second Coming. He gets a friend and a stranger involved in his travels and suddenly they are the three wise “men.” It’s funny.
  • A Final Word~
  • BookLust Twist: From Book Lust  in the chapter “Connie Willis: Too Good To Miss” (p 248).


    Boy’s Life

    McCammon, Robert. Boy’s Life. New York: Pocket Star, 1991.

    I would almost venture to say there is almost too much adventure in this book. More stuff happens to CoreyMackenson in his life, in his boyhood life, than I can begin to explain. There is magic and imagination on nearly every page. Corey is an all-around good kid but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have his share of trouble at school, confrontations with bullies and disagreements with his parents. All normal stuff until you add the mystery of a dead man, the mob, a dog that won’t die, a eye-blinking bike, a run-in with Nazis, kidnapping, a prostitute, the klu klux klan, several monsters and more mayhem. 

    I love a book that has almost every page flagged for a good line; a line I wish I had written, or one that made me think. Here are a few of my favorite lines from early in Boy’s Life:
    “You realize that every person in the world is a compromise of nature” (p 9).
    “Maybe crazy is what they call anyone who’s got magic inside them after they’re no longer a child” (p 10).
    “Oh, I knew what the word meant and all, but its casual use from a pretty mouth shocked the fool out of me” (p 20).
    “There are horrors that burst the bounds of screen and page, and come home all twisted up and grinning behind the face of somebody you love” (p 50).
    “I had never seen a black Jesus before, and this sight both knocked me for a loop and opened up a space in my mind that I’d never known needed light” (p 120).

    BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust and the section on Alabama in “Southern Fried Fiction” (p 207).


    Polar Express

    polar expressVan Allsburg, Chris. The Polar Express. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985.

    Is it any wonder that The Polar Express won a Caldecott award? Is it any wonder that Hollywood made a movie out of it? This is a gorgeous book for adults as well as children. It’s fantastic to read aloud to a child because not only is are the pictures spectacular, but the storyline is wonderful, too. See, I can’t say enough nice things about this book!
    It’s simply the story of a boy who takes a trip by train to visit Santa at the North Pole. He is given a special gift that proves his belief in all things Christmas – the elves, the gifts, the reindeer, the North Pole, and of course, Santa Claus himself. This book was such a treat that I now want to go see the movie!

    “We climbed mountains so high it seemed as if we would scrape the moon” (p 9) and “Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me as it does for all who truly believe” (p 29) are my favorite lines.

    BookLust Twist: From Book Lust  and the chapter on “Christmas Books for the Whole Family to Read” (p 55).


    Twelve Days of Christmas

    12 days of ChristmasKnight, Hilary. Hilary Knight’s Twelve Days of Christmas. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2001.

    On the surface this book looks like your average kids’ book. Cute pictures and a storyline you can sing. We all know “The Twelve Days of Christmas” – it’s that silly song that involves milking cows, egg producing hens, and ladies dancing among other things. What makes this book special is what is going on behind the scenes. There’s a whole other story unfolding in the illustrations.  On the surface Bedelia the bear is trying to tell you what her true love gave to her during the twelve days of Christmas (Dec 25- Jan 6) and then there is Benjamin, for those twelve days straight, bringing her the goods. In the background there’s Reginald the raccoon. He lives in Bedelia’s basement for some strange reason, and if you are observant, you learn that he pines for the perfect girl. Throughout Benjamin’s trips to Bedelia’s door with various (odd) gifts, you see Reginald struggling with something of his own.
    In the end (and I won’t ruin it for you), you will want to go back and look at all the illustrations just a little closer. Everything has a meaning – beyond Benjamin looking to woo Bedelia with twelve lords a~leaping (my favorite). Seriously. Check out the lords. They’ll crack you up.

    BookLust Twist: From Book Lust and the chapter “Christmas Books for the Whole Family to Read” (p 55).


    Father Christmas Letters

    Father ChristmasTolkien, J.R.R. The Father Christmas Letters. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976.

    Pure magic. I loved every minute of this book! I have always loved J.R.R. Tolkien’s imagination. From The Hobbit to The Two Towers I have always enjoyed submerging myself in his work. This book is something special. I think Nancy Pearl sums it up best in Book Lust “Tolkien wrote these letters for his children, beginning in 1920 and ending in 1939. Whimsical pictures complement the descriptions of Father Christmas’s life at the North Pole” (p 56). But, what Pearl doesn’t tell you is that Tolkien is posing as Father Christmas, and each letter (one for each year) is a continuation a story (involving a polar bear, elves and ) from the year before. The illustrations that accompany the letters are as captivating as the storyline. I can truly imagine being a child, caught up in waiting for the letter from Father Christmas.
    The sobering thing about this book is that it ends the same year that World War II starts. Tolkien even makes mention of it on the last page “Half the world seems in the wrong place.” It seems like everyone needed to put aside childhood in 1939.

    BookLust Twist: From Book Lust  in the chapter “Christmas Books For The Whole Family To Read” (p 55).


    Bill Bryson’s African Diary

    African DiaryBryson, Bill. Bill Bryson’s African Diary. New York, Broadway Books, 2002.

    I added this to the December list when I read a review describing it as “short.” It’s much shorter than I thought – only 49 pages of “diary” and a few more pages of statistical information. So short that I was able to read it over a lunch break. I’m glad it was a quick read because I couldn’t put it down. I’m a sucker for charitable tactics, especially unique ones, and this book definitely qualifies. CARE International (a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting global poverty) funded Bill Bryson’s trip to Nairobi, Africa with the request that he write about his eight day adventure. Bryson is known for his travel literature, his humor, and his expressive way of describing life around him. He would certainly be able to describe the poverty, the landscape, and best of all, the people of Africa. Many reviewers called this book a charity puff-piece, a lengthy advertisement for the work of CARE, and were bitter about the $12 price tag. What they missed out on was the stunning photography, the wry humor and the painless way to do good (all royalties and profit from the sale of the book went to CARE International).
    Speaking of humor, here are a few of my favorite lines: “…tireless commitment to mediocrity” (p 2), “you had to be really unlucky to be shot and stabbed” (p 4), “Kenyan Railways has something of a tradition of killing its passengers” (p 21) and, “Watamu was tranquil to the point of being comatose” (25). There are other funny moments: “flying toilets,” and flying for real, to name two.

    For more information on CARE, International go here.

    BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust and the chapter “Bill Bryson: Too Good to Miss” (p 36). This being my first introduction to Bryson I am looking forward to more.


    Storm in Flanders

    Storm in FlandersGroom, Winston. A Storm in Flanders: The Ypres Salient, 1914 – 1918: Tragedy and Triumph on the Western Front. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2001.

    I’m thinking I shouldn’t have picked this book up in the middle of my current state of mind. Don’t get me wrong, Groom’s history on World War I is impressive. Between the diary accounts, breathtaking pictures and easy language (he called someone a “military nut” and someone else “butt-headed”), this wasn’t a dry read. I know more about military warfare than ever before. For example, I learned WWI was Hitler’s introduction to war, paved the way for him, so to speak. The Germans were the first to introduce poison-gas (mustard gas) warfare; and I now know the meaning behind the poppy-like flowers veterans sell outside the grocery store. I always bought them and hung them in Gabriel without knowing why.
    There is humor to Groom’s language: “While the Germans pondered their next move, there was a four-day lull in the fighting – if you can call taking thousands of casualties a day a “lull” (p 51) and “…Germans binged on a gluttony of pork until they were virtually wursted and brattened to their limits” (p 119).

    Since Christmas is fast approaching I am drawn to the story Groom tells of Christmas 1914 when both sides put down their weapons and pretended to be friends for a day, exchanging gifts, singing carols, playing games and even laughing with one another. Yet, when the day was over they went back to killing one another.

    BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter “World War I Nonfiction” (p 251). Pearl points out that Groom writes with compassion for the soldiers and I couldn’t agree more. I think that compassion is what makes this book so interesting.