Bob and the Vandals

I would have liked to have known Bob Dylan in 1962. Right before things started to get crazy for him and even crazier for the nation. I would have liked him as a friend. Maybe less for his music and more for his personality. I liked his sense of humor and can’t help but wonder if he has it still. Are you still funny, Bob? Are ya? I liked his unwillingness to be painted into a corner or labeled like a cheap suit doused with cheaper cologne. I admired his tenacity to keep singing when so-called fans started to protest against his electric sound. I laughed at his ability to dodge questions about being a protesting artist with a hidden agenda or unclear message. What are you trying to say, Bob? ‘I don’t know’ seemed like the perfect answer and he used it all the time. He put everyone from reporters to Joan in their places. Take that! All that was left was (and still is) the whining about how they didn’t understand him (and still don’t).
Imagine being able to write lyrics so crazy good that they flow out of you nonstopping, unstopable. You write so well you can’t keep your own sentences straight. Can’t remember the difference between what you wanted to say and what you actually did say. Don’t even recognize yourself on the radio. I would give anything to write like that for just one day. I’d write the perfect letter. I know who I’d send it to. He’d have to read it because of its perfection. He wouldn’t be able to help himself. Since I can’t write like that, I won’t. Instead, I will listen to Bob. I’ll listen to the vandals take his words and run with them. Tangle them up in blue, steal them for their own. Brilliant by default. Brilliant because of Bob.

Confessional: I wrote this back in August (on the 6th to be exact). I am reallllly pressed for time today so I’m cheating and sending this one up – unfinished.

Choice Cuts

Kurlansky, Mark. Choice Cuts: a Savory Selection of Food Writing from Around the World and Throughout History. New York: Ballantine, 2002.

I like nothing better than a good cookbook. A close second to a good cookbook is reading books written by cooks. Mark Kurlansky does one better and combined the best of food writing from soup to nuts; covering techniques, ingredients and even ethnic origins of food. Then, there’s the introduction. How can you compete when the introduction is titled, “Better than Sex” (p 1)? I mean, come on! Out of the thirty chapters  five six really grabbed my attention. More than the introduction, you ask? Mais oui! How could I not be seduced with chapter titles such as these: “Rants” (p 115), Poultry, Fowl, and Other Ill-Fated Birds (p 210), “Loving Fat” (p 303), “The Dark Side of Chocolate” (p 330), “A Good Drink” (p 361) and, “Bugs” (p 380). See, aren’t you the least bit curious about that last one?

Everything about this book is based on one simple subject – food. Kurlansky takes that subject and explores everything having to do with it. From growing, hunting, buying, and preparing to smelling, eating, and savoring it. The art of cooking, the downfall of rotting, from killing to cultivating. From Cato to Chekhov, Kurlansky finds quotes, essays and passages from a multitude of well known individuals, some with lives centered around food like M.F.K. Fisher and Elizabeth David and some not like Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway and E.M Forster. Whether focused on an ingredient like garlic or chocolate, or a technique like faking venison or baking bread, or a location like favorite restaurants or markets, Kurlansky covers it all. It’s historical and cutting edge. Technical and funny. Poetry and dissertation. Well worth the read.

Favorite passages: “A blonde seems humbly to beseech your heart while a brunette tends to ravish it” (p 39), “So don’t worry about me down here eating nothing and [makeing] an ass of myself. I have had strange eating habits since I was a boy (Ernest Hemingway)” (p 61) and, “cook-books have always intrigued and seduced me (Alice B. Toklas)” (p 182).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter, “Mark Kurlansky: Too Good To Miss” (p 146).

A side note: Before I knew what Choice Cuts was really about I assumed it had something to do with meat. After all, Kurlansky has written about solitary food items such as cod and salt, too. So, thinking this was a book about edible meats nothing disturbed me more than seeing an illustration for what I thought was a squirrel. I was close – it was a dormouse.

‘Sippi (with a spoiler of sorts)

Killens, John Oliver. ‘Sippi. New York: Trident Press, 1967.

In honor of Mississippi becoming a state in the month of December I put ‘Sippi on my list. What an incredibly expansive, volatile story! It follows the lives of two very different people growing up Wakefield County, Mississippi in the 1960s. Carrie Louise Wakefield was born into white money privilege about the same time as Charles Othello Chaney was born into black poverty servitude. “Chuck” and his family worked as servants for Carrie Louise’s extremely wealthy family and would forever be intertwined in each others lives. Over the ever growing turbulent years, events like the Vietnam war, the Civil Rights Movement and the death of Malcolm X stoked the fires of racial unrest. Despite Carrie and Chuck’s vastly different upbringings they both manage to go to college, see a world larger than little Wakefield County. Black and white becomes more and more complicated.        

Favorite lines:
“…seriously wondering how a little bouncing hunk of human essence could possibly emerge from this organized confusion” (p 4). If you couldn’t guess Killens is describing childbirth.
“She was time enough and overtime” (p 69). Here, he’s describing a beautiful woman.
“He had been daydreaming in the nighttime”  (p 129).
“Actually he had drunk the kind of whiskey that would not let you walk. It made you run. He was running drunk” (p 218).

A few complaints. It took a long time to get to the only place the story could end up. Some places were a little drawn out and repetitive. And, yes – I’m gonna blow it – the sex scenes between Carrie and Chuck are a little drawn out and more than a little ridiculous.

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

Lincoln’s Dreams

Willis, Connie. Lincoln’s Dreams. Toronto: Bantam Books, 1987.

Connie Willis typically writes science fiction or fantasy and while Lincoln’s Dreams doesn’t take place in the year 2197 or on the planet Baktakazini, it is equally mind bending and thought provoking. Jeff Johnston is a historical researcher working for a Civil War novelist, Thomas Broun. Broun is obsessed with Abraham Lincoln’s dreams of foreshadowing before his death. Broun goes to great length to analyze them with Jeff’s help. Through his research, Jeff meets Annie, a beautiful Sleep Institute patient who has troubling dreams of her own. Annie has been having dreams not about Robert E. Lee, but AS Robert E. Lee. It’s as if her dreams really are those of Lee’s. Jeff takes it upon himself to not only satisfy the growing obsession Broun has with supporting facts about Lincoln’s dreams but, he also tries to cure Annie of her own Civil War nightmares while falling in love in the process.

Since the bulk of Willis’s storyline centers on Annie having dreams there are a lot of sleep scenes and subsequently the analysis of those dreams. It’s the analysis that I enjoyed the most. The details of the dreams gave life to the Civil War and its participants.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter “Connie Willis: Too Good to Miss” (p 246).

Note:  It is painfully obvious this is a half-assed “review” of sorts. This just goes to show me & myself how out of it we really have been these past few weeks. I have been finished with this book for awhile and never finished this properly. *sigh*

I’m a Stranger Here Myself

BrysonBryson, Bill. I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After Twenty Years Away. New York: Broadway Books, 1999.

I was skeptical of this book. The premise is Bryson has been away from American soil for twenty years (living in England) and the book is supposedly his running commentary on how different everything has become. Right off the bat I wanted to ask, “What? They didn’t have ATM machines or public pay phones in England? Not even by the time Mr. Bryson left?” I have to admit, it never crossed my mind that England could be twenty years behind the U.S. in such things as technology and invention.
In actuality, Bryson’s book was, in a word, delightful. I thoroughly enjoyed his opening essay about the differences between English and American postal services. However, for the most part the comparisons ended there. It was more about how nonsensical America could be with it’s rules and regulations. It reminded me of Robert Fulghum with his humorous observations.

Favorite funnies:
“Going to a restaurant is generally a discouraging experience for me because I always manage somehow to antagonize the waitress” (p 13).
“It is all immensely complicated, but essentially it means that practically every team in baseball except the Chicago Cubs gets a chance to go to the World Series” (p 25).
“He converses as if he has heard that someday he will be billed  for it” (p 93). Sounds like my father!

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lustin the chapter, “Bill Bryson: Too Good to Miss” (p 36).

Anatomy of a Murder

img_43561Traver, Robert. Anatomy of a Murder. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1958.

If you want to get technical about it this was my first book of December – considering the first two were read while it was still November. A technicality, I guess.

Anatomy of a Murder was written in the 1950s by Robert Traver. From the moment I started reading it I couldn’t put it down. 439 pages went by in a blur. I read before bed, when I first woke, on the drive into work, on my lunch break, waiting in line at the grocery store…It had me hooked from the very first sentence. It’s no wonder this novel became a movie. For starters, take the author – Robert Traver was the pen name for John D. Voelker who happened to be a lawyer and a judge in addition to being a fantastic writer. Secondly, Voelker used a real life murder than took place in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. True stories are always fascinating.

So, here’s the story (now that I’ve set the stage, so to speak): Paul (Polly to his friends) Biegler is an ex-D.A. turned public defender set out to prove his client, Frederic Manion, murdered a bartender in a moment of insanity. Proving the insanity isn’t the only challenge of the case. Biegler must also prove Manion’s wife was raped by the bartender (and thus creating the moment of insanity) when all evidence surrounding Mrs. Manion’s attack is not admissible in her husband’s trial. The entire story is so well written you never want it to end.

Some of the many, many lines and phrases I found great:
“gently drunk” (p 13).
“Juries, in common with women drivers, are apt to do the damndest things” (p 39).
“I consider jealousy the most corrosive and destructive of all emotions and I long time ago made up my mind that I refused to be jealous of anyone or anything. Life is simply too goddam short” (p 73).

One last comment. I always thought that lawyers (of any kind) needed to show judges the utmost respect both in the courtroom and in chambers. Right? Well, someone needs to explain the scene on page 244 where Polly is in Judge Weaver’s chambers. Picture this, the Judge has just lit a pipe and Polly sits, “one leg over the arm of [his] chair.” I don’t even sit that way in my mother-in-law’s house!

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter, “What a Trial That Was!” (p 243).

Dangerous Friend

Dangerous FriendJust, Ward. A Dangerous Friend. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999.

This is the companion read to The Quiet American by Graham Greene. I have to say it was interesting to read one man’s book in honor of someone else. But, back to Ward Just. Just was born in December, hence the addition of A Dangerous Friend. If it isn’t clear, I read The Quiet American because it was so similar to A Dangerous Friend. It just made sense to read them together.

A Dangerous Friend takes the reader to Vietnam, 1965. Sydney Parade is a man bored with his Connecticut life. In search of something bigger than himself he leaves his wife and daughter for the jungles of Saigon. While his intention is to be part of a foreign-aid operation building bridges, administering agriculture education, and facilitating supply delivery, Sydney soon discovers war is war no matter which side you are on. The depths of conflict strike his moral heart and leave him struggling to survive any way that he can.

A couple lines that I liked:
“…we were imprisoned in our own language, tone deaf to possibility” (p 4)
“The answer to chaos is repetition” (p 73).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in two different chapters: “Companion Reads” (p 64), and “Ward Just: Too Good to Miss” (p 135). Also, mentioned in the introduction (p xi).

Quiet American

Greene, Graham. The Quiet American. New York: Viking Press, 1956.

This has come up twice for my December readings – once because of Ward Just’s birthday (don’t ask), and once because it is a companion read to Ward Just, again don’t ask. I’ll explain all that when I get to Ward Just’s book later this month week.

Like my friend who started decorating for Christmas, I started reading my December picks on 11/23/08. I couldn’t help myself. I had wanted to fit in Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling but my library’s version was not the complete works. In addition it was missing the two crucial stories Nancy Pearl specifically pointed out. Rather than disrupt the flow of order I moved onto December…a week early!

This was a story of two battles. An English reporter is sent to cover a war-torn Saigon. While there he falls in love with Vietnamese woman. His love is challenged when an American from Boston falls in love with the same woman. There is a real war raging on the periphery, complete with bombings and mass murders, while at the center is a battle over a woman. The interesting twist to this story is how the story makes the reader feel towards the two men and how that changes over time.

Best lines: “I shut my eyes and she was again the same as she used to be: she was the hiss of steam, the clink of a cup; the was a certain hour of the night and the promise of rest” (p 5). That is such an achingly beautiful line!
“You cannot love without intuition” (p 13).
“The possession of a body tonight seemed a very small thing – perhaps that day I had seen too many bodies which belonged to no one, not even to themselves” (p 65-66).
“For a moment I had felt elation as on the instant of waking before one remembers” (p 205).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in two different places: in the chapter “Companion Reads” (p 64), and “Ward Just: Too Good To Miss” (p 135).

Bronte Myth

Bronte mythMiller, Lucasta. The Bronte Myth. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004.

In honor of British Literature month I added The Bronte Myth to November’s reading list. From the very beginning I was intrigued about this book; Much like how the Bronte sisters themselves invited an aura of intrigue from the moment they emerged on the literary scene. When they first began writing they, like any other authors out there, wanted desperately to be taken seriously. In an era where women couldn’t so much as travel alone the three sisters took on androgynous pseudonyms to in an attempt to hide their gender. Only these pseudonyms attracted too much attention once the sisters started to publish. The more they tried to hide their identities the more reviewers, critics, and the general public started to speculate on who they really were, not as authors, but as members of their society. Following the speculation came accusations and wild rumors -created to fill in the gaps of each sister’s true personality. Lucasta Miller attempts to unravel the mystery and kill the myths that surrounds the Bronte women. While Miller does an extremely thorough job I found the reading to be both dense and dry as a result.

Passage that made me think: “…Gaskell’s belief that though Currer Bell might be morbid, Miss Bronte was the soul of feminine delicacy” (p 59).

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter, “Literary Lives: the Brits” (p 146).

ps~ sorry about the huge-ness of the pic. It’s just such a beautiful cover that I couldn’t bear to shrink it!

Best American Essays

Oates, Joyce Carol, ed. The Best American Essays of the Century. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.

As bloggers we cannot help but be reminded that November is National Novel Writing Month. It’s as if there a reminding hope that writing these one-three paragraph diatribes could somehow be transformed into something as concrete, or as interesting, as a full blown novel. I squirm with discomfort every time someone says I should write a book. While my stories are interesting…to a point, I don’t see a need to make them more than what they are: tiny bubbles of thought designed to pop (and ultimately, hopefully) go away when released.

Anyway. This isn’t about me and my nonability to write. This is about the complilation of essays from those who can.
Best American Essays of the Century wraps up the creme de la creme of essay writing from 1901 – 1997. Beginning with Mark Twain (“Corn-pone Opinions”) and ending with Saul Bellow (“Graven Images.”) As part of the Book Lust Challenge I read the following essays:

  • “Stickeen” by John Muir ~ “…for many of Nature’s finest lessons are to be found in her storms” (p 32).
  • “Corn-pone Opinions” by Mark Twain ~ “We are creatures of outside influence; as a rule we do not think, we only imitate” (p 1).
  • “A Law of Acceleration” by Henry Adams
  • “The Devil Baby at Hull-House” by Jane Adams
  • “The Crack-up” by F. Scott Fitzgerald ~ Life was something you dominated if you were any good” (p 139).
  • “The Ethics of Living Jim Crow: an Autobiographical Sketch” by Richard Wright
  • “Sex Ex Machina” by James Thurber ~ “Every person carries in his consciousness the old scar, or the fresh wound of some harrowing misadventure with a contraption of some sort” (p 157).
  • “Letters from a Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • “The Brown Wasps” by Loren Eisley
  • “A drugstore in Winter” by Cynthia Ozick

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “Essaying Essays” (p 80).

The Darling

Banks, Russell. The Darling. New York: Harper Collins, 2004.

I hate using words like “gripping” and “suspense-filled” to describe a book, but this time I can’t help it. The Darling was both of those things and much, much more. Once I started reading it I dropped every other book and concentrated on devouring the words of Russell Banks. While his plots are always over the top I like that hairy edge of reality and suspension of belief.

It’s a political thriller, a sweeping epic spanning the decades of one woman’s life, and a social commentary on Africa, racism and greed. It’s all of these things. Dawn Carrington is Hannah Musgrave who is also “Scout.” Dawn/Hannah/Scout is a woman with a past as complicated as her many names. Brought up by affluent, almost snobby parents as Hannah she is drawn to the underworld of political terrorism as Dawn. On the run after being indicted for a bombing gone bad, Dawn flees to Liberia and, by marrying a government official, becomes Missus Sundiata, her fourth recreation. Told from future to past and back again Dawn/Hannah takes you on her unapologetic journey through deceit, corruption, power and humanity.

Part of the reason why I liked The Darling so well is because it was written by a man. Russell Banks is able to capture the voice of a woman as a wife, mother, and an individual fiercely protective of her independence and individuality. Even if she doesn’t know who she really is. The first person voice is reminiscent of Barbara Kingsolver’s Taylor Greer or Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid.

Favorite lines:
“I was not a natural mother. Was not programmed like most women with a mother’s instincts and abilities…It’s as if I was, and still am, missing the gene” (p 171).
“But how I wished I were invisible. My white skin was a noise, loud and self-proclaiming” (p 177).
“I woke just before dawn with a boulder of rage lodged in the middle of my chest and a desire to break someone’s skull with it” (p 236) – that sounds like something I would say!
“That’s the real American Dream, don’t you think? That you can start over, shape-change, disappear and later reappear as someone else” (p 255).

Another section I had a love-hate relationship with was Hannah/Dawn’s father passing away from a stroke. The detail of his death was almost too painful to read, having watched my father slip away much in the same way.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter “Men Channeling Women” (p 166).

Passionate Nomad

img_4236Geniesse, Jane Fletcher. Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark. New York: Modern Library, 2001.

This has been hanging around the house for over a year now. I had no idea it was even on “the list” until now. Someone gave me a copy with the recommendation, “read it. It’s good. You’ll like it.” Okay. So, in honor of National Travel Month I put Freya on the list (as soon as I found out it was even on the list).

Freya Stark was an amazing woman. Not because she explored uncharted territories. Not because she dared to go where even the bravest of men hadn’t. Not because she had no regard for her own well being. Not even because she was an expert Arabist. She was an amazing woman because she dared, period. We hear about the glass ceiling and what women even today are tolerating. Freya faced all that and more.
Geniesse weaves a convincing autobiography of Freya Stark using letters to and from Freya, journals, interviews, but mostly from Freya’s own library of books written about her experiences. Freya was a prolific writer and so Geniesse had plenty of material to draw from. The final product is a fascinating account of one woman’s rise to recognition through exploration and encourage, especially during one of the most volatile times of our history – World War II.

A few favorite passages:
“One suspects that all her life Freya carried some degree of rage…” (p 23).
“A telegram from Freya requesting that a tin bath be shipped into the interior of Yemen was not unusual” (p 156). You go girl!
“Wherever she went to find solitude on this great, empty earth, from nowhere emerged some form of life, human or otherwise, to share the loneliness” (p 217).
“in the middle of the night she was awakened by the tinkling of a music box being played close to her ear” (p 250).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter, “Lady Travelers” (p 143). I am excited to think I will be reading some of Freya’s own works (eventually), – from this same chapter. Maybe next year.

Continent for the Taking

img_4235French, Howard W. A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2004.

Howard French’s portrayal of Africa is both professional and passionate. He is scholarly and sentimental. There is a deep knowledge about, and an undeniable kinship with, this continent yet French is able to objectively portray it all. He takes the reader through the events of horrific genocide as well as the equally deadly outbreaks of AIDS and Ebola diseases. French skillfully demonstrates how political infrastructures prove to be volatile and fragile yet Africa’s deep seeded cultural roots remain unfailing.

For me, this was a hard read. I simply couldn’t wrap my brain around the threat of senseless violence everyone, regardless of race, age, caste, or sex, had to endure. When these attacks rained down no one was safe. Survival depended on the ability to outwit, outrun, outhide the attacker.

Passages that struck:
“For Mariam, Africa would forever be home, the place where she returned to recharge” (p 5). Despite its unflinching violence, political unrest, and never-ending poverty there is an allure.
“The advantage of a good travel companion goes beyond plain company; his real value is in the kind of moral encouragement he provides…” (p 83).

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called, “Africa: A Reader’s Itinerary” (p 4).

Bridge to Terabithia

Paterson, Katherine. Bridge to Terabithia. New York: Crowell, 1977.

I remember reading this in grade school. No, I take that back. Someone read it to me as “quiet time” in grade school. Then, the movie came out. When Kisa rented it I discovered I had been mispronouncing “terabithia” for years (tera-beeth-ia instead of tera-bith-ia). Not my fault since someone else read it that way.

One of the problems of seeing a movie and then reading the book is the danger of making comparisons to the visuals on the big screen. Because I couldn’t remember the plot from 32 years ago that’s what happened to me. I kept seeing the movie in my mind as I read the words. Either way, it’s a really cute story.

Jesse Aaron is a loner who lives inside his little world of solitude and art. His family is large and boisterous and often times, Jesse doesn’t feel understood by anyone, especially having three sisters. When Leslie Burke moves in next door Jesse is determined to ignore her, too. Soon he discovers they have more in common than he would like to admit. Leslie is creative, smart and a tomboy who can run faster than he can. Eventually they are inseparable friends. Jesse learns more than he bargains for by befriending Leslie.

What I found most compelling is that Paterson wrote this book for her son after he loses a friend to a lightning strike. On the dedication page she indicates her son insisted her name be included.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter, “Best for Boys and Girls” (p 22). Note: Pearl indicates Bridge to Terabithia would be more suitable for girls, but I think it would be equaling interesting to boys.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum

Atkinson, Kate. Behind the Scenes at the Museum. London: Black Swan, 1996.

November is writing month and to celebrate I decided to read something from Nancy Pearl’s chapter called “First Novels” (Book Lust p 88)…in two days!
Behind the Scenes at the Museum was honored as a Whitbread Book of the Year and received such words of praise as remarkable, impressive, entertaining, quirky, colorful, humorous, ambitious, unusual, lively, provacative, promising, witty, enchanting, sassy, astounding…I could go on (and on). With reviews using words like those how could I not expect to love it, want to love it?

From the very beginning Behind the Scenes draws the reader in. Told from the point of view of young Ruby Lennox…(before she is even born) there is humor and sarcasm. Her voice reminds me of the wise-alec baby on Family Guy (sorry, the name escapes me). Ruby is omnipresent, giving the reader insight on every thought, feeling, dream, nightmare her family has.
The alternate chapters (told in third person) give the backstory of Ruby’s mother’s life during the second Great War. The writing is not as humorous, nor as witty as when Ruby gets to speak. Over all the reading is a rollercoaster of ups and downs, twisting you through life’s crazy moments.
Favorite lines:
“She walks out, saying nothing, but inside, a silent Scarlett rages…” (p 22).
“…but how can time be reversible when it gallops forward, clippity-clop and nobody ever comes back. Do they?” (p 210).

All and all I wasn’t as wowed as I thought I would be. Maybe it’s because Ruby’s story isn’t the main focus after all. While she tells the story it’s more about her mother, Bunty, and the generations of women before her. It’s interesting to note there is always a war going on in some capacity and Ruby seems to always be walking in on her father having sex with someone other than his wife!

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “First Novels” (p 88). But, I said that already.