King Lear

Shakespeare, William. “King Lear.” The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974. 1249-1305

Reason read:Billy the Bard was born in April.

I think I have had to read King Lear half a dozen times in my academic career. It keeps coming back. It is interesting to note that this time I didn’t read it as a Pearl pick, but rather as a Pearl comparison. King Lear is compared to a Jane Smiley novel in More Book Lust in the chapter, “Big Ten Country: The Literary Midwest (Iowa) (p 27).

So, back to Mr. Shakespeare and his brilliant tragedy. To sum up the play in one sentence: this is the story of a king seeking to divide his kingdom among his three daughters based on who could articulate her love for him the best. Beyond that it is the tragedy of emotional greed – of wanting to be loved at any cost. It is the tragedy of politics and family dynamics. Youngest daughter Cordelia is unwilling to conform to her father’s wishes of exaggerated devotion. Isn’t the last born always the rebel in the family? As a result Cordelia’s portion of the kingdom is divided among her two sisters, Goneril and Regan. The story goes on to ooze betrayal and madness. Lear is trapped by his own ego and made foolish by his hubris.

Author trivia: it makes me giggle to think that Shakespeare was married to a woman named Anne Hathaway, only not that Anne Hathaway.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called (as mentioned before), “Big Ten Country: the Literary Midwest (Iowa)” (p 27).


In the Gloaming

Dark, Alice Elliot. In the Gloaming: stories. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.

When I first saw Ms. Dark’s photo on the inside jacket of In the Gloaming I thought it was a gloomy picture and hoped the stories inside would not reflect the author’s sad expression. In a way it was a premonition. Of all the stories in In the Gloaming only two were not tinged with sadness and general dissatisfaction. Every story is comprised of three components: characters with dilemmas or decisions to make, human interactions that depend on the outcome of the dilemma or decision, and a sparse plot serving as a thin backdrop to the character conflict.
Case in point: Mother and son get to know each other in the title story. Son is dying of AIDS while father slips out of the picture. Mother’s dilemma is whether to acknowledge her son’s inevitable demise or pretend his life has hope. Another example, in “The Jungle Lodge” two sisters are on vacation in the Amazon. One sister has the dilemma of whether or not to tell the other she had been raped while discovering her sister’s improper relationship. One last dilemma. In “Close” a man’s dilemma is which woman to continue a relationship with, his pretty mistress or his pregnant wife while learning his childhood home is up for sale.Each dilemma or decision has an impact on the supporting characters.

Favorite line, “There was something about the way they were touching that seemed to surpass the medicinal purpose they’d claimed” (p 54).

Author Fact: Alice Elliott Dark has her own blog on blogspot. I checked it out and was surprised to see only 15 posts, but then again it was only started in September 2010.

Book Trivia: The title story was made into a movie for HBO starring Glenn Close and directed by Christopher Reeves. Yes, another movie I have yet to see.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “My Name is Alice: (p 1). Funny thing, In the Gloaming was somehow omitted from the index of Book Lust. It should have been indexed between In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz and In the Kingdom of Air. Oh well.


Night Before Christmas

Moore, Clement Clarke. A Visit From St. Nicholas. Mount Vernon: Peter Pauper Press, 1950.

When I was a child no five words filed my head with more wonder than, “Twas the night before Christmas…” On Christmas Eve my sister and I would crowd around the cb radio and listen to a local fisherman read Moore’s famous poem. When did he start this tradition, I have no idea. When did he stop, I haven’t the faintest. But while I was young and believed with a capital B I hung on his every word.

Who doesn’t know the rest of that first line, “Twas the night before Christmas”? It has got to be the most recited, most beloved poem of Christmas and all year round. I went years without knowing who wrote it but could recite it line for line.

Here’s the basic premise for a poem you all know by heart. It’s the night before Christmas and an overly observant man is just getting ready for bed. He makes comments about how still the house is, how the kids are sleeping, and so forth when suddenly he hears something. His wife must be a heavy sleeper for only the man hears a commotion outside. A portly man driving a sleigh with a herd of deer leading the way flies across the sky. They land on the roof and enter the house via the chimney. Somehow this doesn’t faze the homeowner at all. He takes his time describing the intruder and accepts the gifts he leaves. I suppose the detailed description would come in handy for the police should the homeowner later report the odd event. When the little man has finished unpacking his sack he disappears up the chimney again and drives out of sight exclaiming my favorite line, “Happy Christmas to all and to all a Good Night!” (p 16).

Author Fact: Moore was a professor at Columbia and taught Oriental and Greek literature.

Book Poem Trivia: Since A Visit From St. Nicholas was first published anonymously there is some controversy surrounding the true author. Interestingly enough, Nancy Pearl doesn’t give any author credit.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Christmas Books for the Whole Family” (p 55). I have a confession to make. Because Nancy Pearl called it “The Night Before Christmas” and not “A Visit From St. Nicholas” I am assuming they are one and the same.

ps~ the version I borrowed from the library had sign language as an accompaniment to the story. Very cool.


Goodbye, Columbus

Roth, Philip. “Goodbye, Columbus.” Novels and Stories. 1959 – 1962. Ed. Ross Miller. New York: The Library of America, 2005. 7 – 108.

Neil Klugman is a 23 year old man living with his self martyred aunt and uncle in Newark, New Jersey while his asthmatic parents convalesce in Arizona. “Goodbye, Columbus” is told from his point of view and could be seen as a Jewish American coming-of-age story about Neil’s summer romance with wealthy, snobbish Brenda Patimkins. It is closer to the truth to say “Goodbye, Columbus” is a commentary on class. Neil and Brenda’s socioeconomic differences create subtle tensions between the couple until they discover their relationship is built on lust rather than love. This is most apparent when Neil says, “Actually we did not have the feelings we said we had until we spoke them – at least I didn’t, to phrase them was to invent them and own them” (p 19). I have to admit it took me a while to figure out where the title of the story came from. Turns out, Brenda’s brother would listen to what Neil referred to as the “Columbus record” before bed – a recording of his Ohio State sports career. Neil could hear a moaning of the words, “Goodbye, Columbus” over and over again.

Favorite lines: “…it was disturbing to Aunt Gladys to think that anything she served might pass through a gullet, stomach, and bowel just for the pleasure of the trip” (p 9)., and “Ther proposed toasts…Brenda smiled at them with her eyeteeth and I brought up a cheery look from some fraudulent auricle of my heart” (p 88).

Author fact: Philip Roth is so popular that in Texas there is an organization called the Philip Roth Society and it for the scholarly study and general appreciation of Roth’s work.

Book Trivia: Goodbye Columbus was made into a movie starring Richard Benjamin and Ali MacGraw. I was stunned by how many different actresses turned down the role of Brenda before Ali came along. Yet again, another movie I haven’t seen.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in two different chapters. First, in the chapter called “Jersey Guys and Dolls” (p 130), then in the chapter called “You Can’t Judge a Book By Its Cover” (p 238). This last admission cracks me up because MY cover of “Goodbye, Columbus” is a photograph of Philip Roth’s face!


Palace Thief

Canin, Ethan. The Palace Thief: Stories. New York: Random House, 1994.

What can I say about The Palace Thief that hasn’t been said before? The writing is brilliant. Being only 202 pages long I burned through it in a matter of days. The Palace Thief is comprised of four short stories, Accountant, Batorsag and Szerelem, City of Broken Hearts and The Palace Thief. Each story centers around a main character who is always male, always a little egocentric, always misguided, and always more than a little lonely and misunderstood. Canin’s style is to give you a peep show sampling of these characters and the lives try to lead. As the reader you are allowed only a negotiated proximity to what really makes each man tick. It’s teasing and tantalizing and because the stories are that good you find yourself forgiving Mr. Canin for this.
I don’t think this is a spoiler of any sort to question if Canin speaks Hungarian on a regular basis.

Favorite line: From City of Broken Hearts: “It was just that Wilson could never figure out when it was all right to ask” (p 112). Wilson is a man too wrapped up in his own selfishness and vanity to understand his philanthropic son. This line resonated with me because I know we have all had family members we want to grill but we never seem to figure out when is the best time (if ever).

Author Fact: Ethan Andrew Canin has no shortage of occupations. When he isn’t writing he is teaching…or practicing medicine. Biographies claim he has a BA in English or a BA in Engineering from Stanford (hey, both degrees start with ‘eng’).

Book Trivia: Two of the short stories were made into movies. Batorsag and Szerelem was made into a movie called ‘Beautiful Ohio’ in 2006 and the title story, Palace Thief was made into a movie called “The Emperor’s Club” in 2002. I have yet to see either one.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Growing Writers” (p 107).


Best Nightmare on Earth

Gold, Herbert. Best Nightmare on Earth: a Life in Haiti.New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1991.

I love reading books that hold hands. The Comedians by Graham Greene is mentioned a bunch of times in Hebert Gold’s Best nightmare on Earth. Because I had read (inadvertently) The Comedians before Nightmare I knew what Gold was talking about. I could relate and it just worked out that way. Funny how Pearl didn’t call these two books “companion reads” because they seem like they were meant to read together.
Herbert Gold discovered Haiti on a Fulbright Scholarship. This was to be the beginning of an addiction to a hellish paradise. For the next forty years Gold traveled between the States and the Caribbean trying this craving. Through Best Nightmare on Earth Gold does his best to explain this curious attraction while holding nothing back. He peels back the layers of politics and corruption to reveal exotic grace and mystery. Papa Doc (both father and son) rule the land while voodoo rules all. Gold’s descriptions of the violence, the celebrations, the loves and losses are as vivid as the realities of greed and poverty.

Favorite quotes, “Despite my yearning for privacy, I also needed sociability, the opening and the shutting of the mouth to utter companionable sounds” (p 112), “Wasn’t running something that human beings took up in hostile environments, in worlds of desert hunting and forest seeking, chasing animals, preening for partners, sometimes being chased?” (p 191), and “Proud despair is the mood of everyone” (p 199).

Author Fact: Herbert Gold was a member of the Beat Generation and dear friends with Allen Ginsberg.

Book Trivia: For those wanting to know more about Haiti (the good, the bad and the ugly) Best Nightmare on Earth is almost always listed in the bibliography.

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


Made in America

Bryson, Bill. Made in America: an Informal History of the English Language in the United States. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1994.

Made in America has multiple personalities. It could be seen as a classification of American etymology, a short history of American culture, a collection of forgotten trivia, a handbook of conversation starters, a joke book of humor, or as most people see it, all of the above. The inside cover of Made in America sums up the book perfectly, “Bryson’s is a unique history, not only of American words, but of America through words.”

Favorite lines, “…Clark fared better. He became governor of the Missouri Territory and commanded it with distinction, though he never did learn to spell” (p122).

Favorite tidbits of information: Frederick Remington never saw a real cowboy and was too fat to ever get on a horse; foodcarts weren’t allowed to vend on residential streets so they moved to parking lots, removed their wheels and became restaurants; Sylvester Graham believed food with taste was immoral.

Book Trivia: You could call Made in America a history of American words or words describing an American history.
Author Fact: Bill Bryson once worked in a psychiatric hospital. Doing what? Making the patients laugh out loud when things got too manic?

Book Lust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Bill Bryson: Too Good To Miss” (p 36).


The Comedians

Greene, Graham. The Comedians. London: The Bodley Head, 1966.

When The Best Nightmare on Earth: a Life in Haiti didn’t come fast enough I grabbed The Comedians off the shelf in our own library. It fit with the purpose: to celebrate December as the best time to vacation in the Caribbean.

The Comedians starts out at sea. A small handful of passengers are traveling to Haiti; notably Mr. Brown, Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones. Because of their common names there is an air of mystery to their characters. Curiously, their first names are never revealed. As Mr. Brown (telling the story) points out, they could be anyone. Although, as the reader will discover, they are not. they are comedians, pretenders. Mr. Smith is a United States Presidential candidate on the “Vegetarian platform” of 1948. He arrives in Port-au-Prince with his wife looking to start a vegetarian center. Mr. Jones is a shady character with a dubious past. He appears to be on the run from British authorities and full of tall tales. Nothing he says is believable. Mr. Brown, as narrator, is a man without a country. He owns a failing hotel and is having an affair with a South American Ambassador’s wife. His existence is on the fringe of life. He’s always forgetting that the phones work.
All three men are ruined souls, barely playing out their parts. The backdrop for The Comedians is the real-life tyrannical and violent Papa Doc and his shadowy secret police, the Tonton Macoute. Jones, Brown and Smith are vehicles to introduce the reader to the poverty, the voodoo, the political unrest, and the eventual yet unsuccessful uprising of the rebellion army.

Favorite lines, “His slang, I was to find, was always a little out of date as though he had studied it in a dictionary of popular usage, but not in the latest edition” (p 12), “Perhaps it was only my nerves that lent him an expression of repulsive cruelty” (p 120), and my favorite, “Like some wines our love could neither mature nor travel” (p 308).

Author fact: Graham Green was born Henry Graham Green and was bipolar.

Book Trivia: The Comedians was made into a movie in 1967 starring Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and James Earl Jones among others.

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


Apology

Plato. Dialogues of Plato: Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Symposium, Republic. Trans. Jowett. New York: Washington Square Press, Inc., 1962.

It has been argued long and hard that Plato’s Apology is the true account of the trial of Socrates. As a witness to the trial he transcribes Socrates’s speech in his own defense as he faces his accusers. The court affidavit states Socrates is a “doer of evil; does not believe in the gods of the State, but has other new divinities of his own.” He is, through his own philosophies, corrupting the youth of Athens. Despite his eloquent and passionate speech Socrates is found guilty and sentenced to death by hemlock. Apology covers the trial, the verdict and the sentencing.

I find it interesting that while Plato does not reveal the number of votes that warranted a guilty verdict Socrates states, “but now, had thirty votes gone over to the other side, I should have been acquitted”  (p 32). Found guilty by only 30 votes! Another interesting moment is when Socrates confronts one of his accusers, Meletus. Socrates gets him to contradict the affidavit by admitting he thinks Socrates is an atheist. How can Socrates be both an atheist and someone who worships personal deities?

Favorite lines: “I admit that I am eloquent” (p 5), and “…I was really too honest a man to be a politician…” (p32).

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


Brothers and Sisters

Campbell, Bebe Moore. Brothers and Sisters. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. 1994.

Discrimination is discrimination. When asked about Brothers and Sisters Campbell said if a person of color is ignored by a white waitress it is just as psychologically damaging as if the person of color is made to sit at the back of the bus. I see her point but there is a small part of me that has to ask two questions. One, is the person of color being ignored because of skin color or is the person of color being ignored by a really bad waitress? Two, does a book like Brothers and Sisters bring attention and awareness or fuel the fires of racism? I was talking to someone yesterday about the holocaust. Being German he was complaining that his country, “beats a dead horse” when remembering and making up for the atrocities of World War II. He feels that the constant reminders actually keep hate alive and if the powers that be let history slide into hazy remembrance “it wouldn’t be such a big deal.”I disagree but I have to admit it is an interesting point.

It took me a few pages to get into Brothers and Sisters. The introductions of the characters is exaggerated ; their personalities are inflated beyond reality. I found them to be too stereotypical. The need to illustrate the main character, Esther Jackson, as perfect is overdone. In the first chapter Esther  is described as “efficient, tall, large breasted, slim hipped, strong, coordinated, powerful, smooth cocoa-colored skinned, muscular legged, pleasant faced, professional, congenial, full lipped, beautiful, meticulous, painfully perfect, impeccable, devoted to duty, well-enunciated, precise.” Yet, it is hard to like her because when it comes to dealing with white people she has these attributes, “rage, anger, venomous, hostility, violent, frowning.” She becomes wild-eyed and shaking at times. The opinions and racism Esther demonstrates are so vehement I have to wonder if they aren’t a reflection of the author’s feelings.

Esther Jackson is trying to make a career for herself at a downtown Los Angeles bank right after the April 1992 riots. She currently works in middle management but dreams of climbing higher. She knows that because of the color of her skin she must work twice as hard as her white counterpart to climb the corporate ladder. Despite the unfairness of the situation Esther herself practices prejudices when it comes to relationships and friendships. Beyond skin color she screens for financial status. Her motto is “no romance without finance.” But, when she allows herself to become friends with a white woman and finds herself dating a poor man things get complicated. In Brothers and Sisters you meet all kinds of characters with personal problems with society. The politics and backstabbing of all involved was fascinating. The entire story was a game of cat and mouse but exactly who was chasing who keeps you guessing.

Author Fact: Bebe Moore Campbell died at the age of 56 from brain cancer.

Book Trivia: Brothers and Sisters was written to encourage discussion about discrimination.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust twice. First, in the chapter called “African American Fiction: She Say (p 12). Then, in the chapter called California, Here We Come (p 50).


Ruby

Hood, Ann. Ruby. New York: Picador, 1998.

Olivia has lost her husband, David, to a reckless driver, killed while jogging along a country road. Olivia, only 37, is faced with immeasurable grief and the nagging guilt that she had something to do with his death. In an effort to move on with her life she resolves to sell their summer cottage and put the past behind her. Only she can’t. A pregnant, defiant, wayward teen has made herself at home in Olivia and David’s seemingly abandoned house. Within a few minutes of confronting her, Olivia begins to bond with Ruby, seeing more of herself in the teenager than she would like to admit. What Ruby and Olivia can admit to is the fact they need each other. From this point forward Ann Hood’s storytelling is a psychological dance between the needy yet tough Olivia and the tough yet needy Ruby. Both of them want something from the other. Both are willing to manipulate the other to get it. The story becomes a page turner because you want to know who wins.

I like books that make me wander off topic. I enjoy small tangents every now and again. Olivia mentions her plan of stenciling the words to “a William Carlos Williams poem about plums” on her cottage wall. After surfacing from the instant sadness of lost dreams the image made me want to reread the poem in question, ‘This is Just to Say.’ Of course after rereading ‘This is Just to Say’ I had to find and reread Flossie Williams’s reply to “Bill.” Together they are a poetic commentary on marriage; communication between husband and wife.

Favorite line-, “Better to share the blame than to carry it all alone” (p 19). I found this interesting because most people want to put the blame 100% on someone else, never mind sharing it.

Some nitpicking. The reader is first introduced to Olivia’s world after Olivia’s husband has been killed by a reckless driver. Because the tragedy has already occurred the reader is anticipating the demise. You never get a chance to fall in love with Olivia and David as a couple. As a result the impact of Olivia’s grief is diminished. You don’t end up feeling as sorry for her situation as you could if you had been confronted with the shock of loss at the same time.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the very first chapter called Adapting to Adoption (p 2). Nancy Pearl calls Olivia ‘Livia.’ Interesting. It must be a (another) typo because nowhere in the book does anyone call Olivia ‘Livia.’

PS~ A Review in Library Journal called Ann Hood “Barbara Kingsolver without the whimsy.” I think it’s the other way around. Barbara Kingsolver is Ann Hood without the whimsy. I don’t see Kingsolver as whimsy at all. The Lacuna and The Poisonwood Bible are far from whimsy!


The Healing

Jones, Gayl. The Healing.Boston: Beacon Press, 1998.

I was not a fan of The Healing for several reasons. I have nothing against Gayl Jones as an author, I just don’t care for first person stream of consciousness. First and foremost, page structure is annoying. Because it is a stream of consciousness there aren’t traditional paragraph structures and page endings. It was hard to find a place to stop reading in between chapters and I’m a snippet reader. I pick up a book in line at the grocery store, as a passenger in a car, while waiting for a meeting to begin. It’s hard to read stream of consciousness in those situations. Maybe that it’s the point but I found the narrative to be a bit blah blah blah-ish, repetitious and tedious. Check out how many times the word ‘town’ was used on page seven or how may times the word ‘men’ was mentioned in the first paragraph of chapter two. Such repetition is just not my style.
Harlan Jane Eagelton is a faith healer with a colorful past. Her history of being a rock star’s manager, a hair dresser and a turtle in another life make for some wonderful storytelling (if you can get past the repetition). Harlan is smart, yet her country-bumpkin manner of speaking isn’t fooling anyone, least of all the reader. Nuggets of knowledge are firmly wedged between the bumpkin babble. Case in point – in rambling about odds and ends she inserts the names of Inuit and Inupiag peoples of Alaska with a clear understanding of the difference. Another key element to Harlan’s story is that she tells it backwards. You begin with her current occupation as a faith healer and work backwards to fill in the gaps.

Favorite lines, “She craved but never trusted the applause” (p 150). Isn’t that the way of all rock stars? “Who screwed whom before who caught whom screwing whom before who screwed whom?” (p 178). I found the vocabulary funny, my favorite word being ‘flibbertigibbets.’

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “African American Fiction: She Say” (p 13).


On the Road

Kerouac, Jack. On the Road. New York: Penguin Books, 1991.

Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac holds an air of mystery even to this day. For generations he has been regarded as one of coolest cats of the 1950s. On The Road was an overnight success and an instant cult classic. So it came as a great surprise to everyone when I admitted I hadn’t read it. It wasn’t required in any high school, college or grad school course. Somehow it missed my radar completely. Maybe I didn’t see myself as worthy. Even when Natalie Merchant wrote “Hey Jack Kerouac” I was not moved to know more about the man or the myth. Thank heavens for More Book Lust and this self-imposed challenge. There is a vibe just holding this book. Someone killed a mosquito on page 88; it’s flattened body pressed forever like a keepsake corsage.

On the Road is an anthem for the young, the restless, the daring. It taps into a longing for freedom, a desire to roam, a quest for life and all it has to offer. The language is nonchalant and haphazard giving the story a reckless vibe. Case in point, who says “balled the jack” anymore? Kerouac captures the days when you could take a flatbed truck, load it with a group of reckless youth and roar across the country hellbent for the coast of anywhere, exhilarated just to be alive.

Favorite lines: “I hope you get where you are going and be happy when you do” (p 30), “Central City is two miles high; at first you get drunk on the altitude, then you get tired, and there’s a fever in your soul” (p 53),  “I never saw so many snarls in all my born days” (p 62) and “Everybody goes home in October” (p 103). Favorite phrases, “mixing up our souls” (p 91) and “love is a duel” (p 101)

BookLust Twist: From  Book Lust in the chapter called Road Novels (p 202) and from More Book Lust in the chapter called The Beats and Their Generation (p 17).


Balsamroot

Blew, Mary Clearman. Balsamroot: a Memoir. New York, Viking: 1994.

Mary Blew wants people to know about her life. She wants people to know the wilds of Montana as her ancestors found it, cultivated it, endured it, survived it. However, Balsamroot is more than about Blew’s life and the personal landscape of her people. Balsamroot is about family ties. The ties that keep generations together and what tears them apart. When Blew first introduces her daughter, Elizabeth, I am sad for them. Mary makes it clear she has lost touch with her eldest daughter – hasn’t seen her in years. She doesn’t hide the fact Elizabeth is a complete stranger to her; asking “Am I really her mother?” (p 19). It dawned on me I could be Elizabeth. I could slip away from my mother and sister just as easily. I could let years and distance come between us as. It’s as easy as all that. The stories within Balsamroot bounce around a lot. Early homesteading stories and mingled with a present day pregnancy and musings about Blew’s own attempts at motherhood. It is a running commentary on growing old from the perspective of the baffled, frustrated caregiver. Dementia robs an entire family of more than just the mind and its memories. The past and present are entwined into one beautiful story.

Favorite lines, “Or I imagined my aunt falling through the hole in her mind” (p 15), “She and I talk, in the private coded language of two women who have known each other, and most of each other’s secrets for twenty years…” (p 144), and “I’m not invisible, it’s just that nobody sees me” (p 156).

Maybe this seems too intrusive, but I would have liked Blew to include photographs, especially of her Auntie.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “Montana: In Big Sky Country (p 156).


Harmless People

Thomas, Elizabeth Marshall. The Harmless People. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970.

Elizabeth Thomas put a lot of heart and soul into the writing of The Harmless People. Her research was not done from a cold, calculating, scientific perspective. From the very first pages one can feel the intensity of the respect she has for the lives and cultures Kalahari Bushmen. Thomas seems driven to convey a message more important than all the others about the reclusive tribes and that is they are gentle people. Harmless. Their tribal name for themselves is Zhu twa si, meaning the harmless people. There are many occasions for Thomas to illustrate this. In order to study each Kalahari tribe Thomas first had to find them which proved to be difficult because they had a tendency to run and hide at the first sign of stranger intrusion. Even after finding these people she (and her crew of scientists and researchers) had to convince them she wasn’t there to create conflict or enslave them or steal from them. It took a great deal of time to gain their trust just so that Thomas could live among them.

Favorite lines, “…Bushmen would not try to fight because they have no mechanism in their culture for dealing with disagreements other than to remove the causes of the disagreements” (p 22), and “We would have liked to look around, but the best thing we could do was keep our big boots and our bodies away from their delicate, fragile, almost invisible community” (p 41).
Most disturbing moment? Believe it or not, when Thomas describes the killing, cooking and consumption of a turtle. I could barely read the words.

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