Treasure Hunter

Jameson, W.C. Treasure Hunter: a Memoir of Caches, Curses, and Confrontations. 2nd Ed. London: Taylor Trade Publication, 2014.

Reason read: LibraryThing and the Early Review program.

Author fact: Jameson has written over 25 books on buried treasure and over 15 books on other subjects such as poetry, food and biographies.

Book trivia: Treasure Hunter has minimal photographs; mostly of Jameson as a young (and very handsome) treasure hunter.

First, the good news.Jameson is a great storyteller. His flair for detail makes every gold or silver ingot expedition come alive. You are right there with him and his crew in the desert, crawling through caves, avoiding snakes and spiders and, of course, the law. Right away, three things about Jameson are apparent. He values privacy due to his semi-outlaw status, he is proud of his semi-outlaw status and he wishes his treasure hunting days weren’t drawing to a close. He wants to go back for the gold or silver he left behind. Which brings me to the bad news. Every expedition may start off differently: different state (mostly in the southwest) or different country (Mexico), but they all end the same way – the bulk of the treasure (sometimes all of it) is left behind for one reason or another. It’s as if Jameson is daring us to get out there and look for it ourselves. Every chapter ends with “the treasure is still there, waiting” or something like that.

As an aside, I wasn’t surprised to see Jameson has authored a few cookbooks as well. The way he describes food in Treasure Hunter lets you know he savors his meals.
UPDATE: Did you see the news?! Famed treasure hunter Tommy Thompson was arrested this week. He’s been on the run for years. Could 61 year old Thompson be Jameson’s “missing” partner? The news certainly got my wheels spinning!

Lady Franklin’s Revenge

McGoogan, Ken. Lady Franklin’s Revenge: a True Story of Ambition, Obsession and the Remaking of Arctic History. London: Bantam Books, 2006.

Lady Jane Franklin is right up there with Freya Stark and Isabella Bird when it comes to fearless lady travelers – except Stark and Bird were barely born before Franklin started her travels. She truly exemplified a pioneer in female expedition. Although Nancy Pearl doesn’t include Franklin in her chapter on the subject in Book Lust, Franklin was the first to venture to far off places such as Russia, Africa and the wilds of Australia at a time when Victorian women were expected to stay at home, be dutiful wives and raise docile families. Jane Griffin was different. From a very young age she couldn’t be bothered with such domestic pursuits. She wanted an education, an adventure, and to be an outspoken voice. Even after marrying John Franklin and becoming an instant mother to his four year old daughter, Jane Franklin felt no parental responsibility for Eleanor and continued to travel on her “own” (servants and escorts not counted). It was only after her husband, now Sir John Franklin, disappeared in the Arctic that another obsession besides travel of Lady Franklin’s was realized- to bring her husband home. She spared no expense (even her stepdaughter’s inheritance) and pulled out all the stops to convince high-powered officials that her husband’s expedition was worth searching for. At a time when America and Great Britain were not on the best of terms, Lady Franklin worked deals with both countries to send rescue expeditions into unknown waters. She worked tirelessly to keep the missing ships in the minds of everyone on both sides of the pond. Even after the mystery of Frankin’s disappearance had been solved, Lady Franklin insisted his name should carry on as the discoverer of the Northwest Passage.

Can I just say I wish I could have known Lady Franklin? For some reason I find her incredibly cool. While I don’t admire her selfish behavior and prejudice ways, I value the strength in her independence, her tenacity and resolve.

Quoting my favorite lines, “She cloaked her need in the language of love, thus deluding even herself” (p 53), and “In her twenties, the studious Jane Griffin not only read prodigiously, but began keeping a special notebook, updated annually, in which she listed books and articles she perused” (p 63). I, too, keep a journal of such lists. Only my journal is updated monthly and I don’t include articles. Just books.

Reason read: Jane Griffin Franklin was born in December. Reading Lady Franklin’s Revenge in her honor.

Author fact: Ken McGoogan also wrote a biography of Samuel Hearn, another adventurer fascinated with Arctic exploration.

Book trivia: One of the great things about McGoogan’s Lady Franklin is the variety of photographs included. Something as simple as a photograph of a replica of the dress Jane would have worn as a young woman was appreciated. It added texture to the text, if you will.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “To the Ends of the Earth: North and South” (p 232).

Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Diaz, Junot. The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Diaz. New York: Riverhead Books, 2007.

From the very first pages of The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (which I will from now on refer to as “Wondrous” because the title is too long), you are sucked in. The narrator goes on and on about “fuku” curse and the superstition of it all. It’s amusing and chilling all at once. All the while, you are hoping fuku doesn’t set its sights on you. But if it does, you also hope to have a little zafa (counterspell) hanging around.

When we first meet Oscar, he is seven years old and the year is 1974. He is the “GhettoNerd at the End of the World” trying to have two girlfriends at once. The story switches gears for chapter two (1982 – 1985). Oscar’s sister, Lola takes over the story in first person. She is a feisty runaway girl with typical teenage angst. From there, the narratives keep changing. Each voice tells a new story (just wait until you get to the story of Lola and Oscar’s mother, Belicia from 1955 to 1962). Through the generations, all the while the fuku is circling this doomed family. The writing of Wondrous is rich and enveloping. You cannot help but get completely drawn into the lives of every character.

Favorite lines (and there are a few), “The talkback blew the fuck up” (p 6), “You don’t know the hold our mothers have on us, even the ones that are never around. You don’t know what it’s like to grow up with a mother who never said a positive thing in her life, not about her children, not about the world, who has always been suspicious, always tearing you down and splitting your dreams straight down the seams” (p 55-56), and “Even at the end she refused to show me anything close to love” (p 208).

Reason read: New Jersey became a state on December 18, 1787.

Author fact: Junot also wrote Drown which is also on my list.

Book trivia: Pearl recommended listening to the audio of The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao so I did both. I listened to the audio to and from work and read 10-15 pages on my lunch break. Also, Wondrous won a Pulitzer.

Audio trivia: The audio is read by Jonathan Davis and an unknown female…unless Davis does an extraordinary job sounding like a woman?

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cavorting Through the Caribbean” (p 54).

Maus: a Survivor’s Tale

Spiegelman, Art: Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale. My Father Bleeds History. New York: Pantheon Books, 1973.

Maus I is such a curious conundrum. On the one hand, you are mostly looking at pictures. The very idea of a “comic book” is something out of childhood and inherently considered “light reading.” Definitely not something to be taken seriously. On the other hand, you have Spiegelman’s story itself: a son interviewing his father to get the perspective of a Polish Jew who survived the Nazi concentration camps of World War II. Fear, starvation, distrust, torture, suicide, execution, genocide. All pretty heavy subject matter and without a doubt, difficult to read in any context. Even in his characterization Spiegelman plays with our perceptions. He uses enemies in the natural world to drive home the story; using cats for the Germans and mice for the Jews; pigs for the police.
Here’s the underlying truth, the war never leaves Spiegelman’s father. Even though he survived the war, survived the concentration camps, survived to tell his tale, he lives in the shadow of memory. He worries constantly about money; is distrustful of his own family’s intentions (trying to steal from him). Betrayals of the past run deep and dictate how he trusts others.

Reason read: Pearl Harbor anniversary is Dec 7th (Remembrance Day). Confessional: I started this in November in honor of Veterans’ Day.

Stop and think line, “He survived me my life that time” (p 80). Even though we would normally say, “he saved my life” I think this phrasing, saying the word “survived” carries more weight.

Author fact: Check out the author info in Maus I. There is a lot going on in the illustration.

Book trivia: My favorite part was the comic within the graphic novel. The styles were so vastly different. The importance of the comic was clearly illustrated.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter “Graphic Novels” (p 103).

Cradle of Gold

Heaney, Christopher. Cradle of Gold: the Story of Hiram Bingham, a Real-Life Indiana Jones, and the Search for Machu Picchu. New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2010.

In 2008 Peru sued Yale University for the return of artifacts and human remains taken by Hiram Bingham. They claimed he stole over 46,000 articles. Yale claimed they had only a little over 5,000. Was that an admission of guilt? Heaney was fascinated with the case and decided to dig up the truth for himself. Here’s the thing, he knows how to grab the reader’s attention with the opening description of Indiana Jones. I like the idea of Hiram Bingham being the devil-may-care Indiana Jones of his time. It lends an air of intrigue to the story. He had the looks and the devil-may-care attitude!

Here are some things about Hiram Bingham: Hiram is an old family name. Our Hiram was the third. He sired a fourth. Hiram was also very prejudice. He thought he had “competition” when exploring the ancient Inca ruins until he realized the ones who went before him weren’t European white so they didn’t count. He was also a master thief. He was able to smuggle out additional crates of human remains and artifacts with the help of Peruvians he was able to bribe. His smuggling cracked open an age-old question, just who do these treasures belong to? The ancestors of the land or are the finders the keepers, as they saying goes?

Heaney’s story is rich with history and lore. The ghosts of past conquests walk among Bingham’s Machu Picchu ruins and beg to be remembered.

Quotes I liked, “Christianity no longer had a monopoly on the truth” (p 14), “Yet a pith helmet, compass, and a slap-leather spirit did not an explorer make” (p 29),
Reason read: Hiram Bingham was born in the month of November – read in his honor.

Author fact: Heaney has his own website.

Book trivia: While Cradle of Gold has some photographs, they aren’t very exciting. There aren’t that many of Hiram, despite the fact he was a good looking man.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Peru(sing) Peru)” (p 177).

Walk in the Woods

Bryson, Bill. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. New York: Broadway Books, 1998.

Bill Bryson is one of those “collectible” authors. Meaning, I know I can read anything he has written and enjoy it on some level. A Walk in the Woods was no different. One day in 1996 while walking near his Hanover, New Hampshire home Bryson gets it into his head to hike the Appalachian Trail, starting in Georgia and working his way, 2,100 miles later, to Maine. He brings along an old buddy, Stephen Katz, someone he hasn’t seen in years. They make an interesting pair and their relationship is one of the best parts of the book, but there is a little of everything in A Walk in the Woods. Over the course of 870 miles, Bryson has the opportunity to tackle the serious with a touch of silliness. Case in point, the bears. Bryson jokes about becoming a snack for the hungry mammals but at the same time paints a pretty scary picture of what those beasts can do. While a great deal of the book is written in a humorous tone (can you just picture the “waddlesome sloth” he mentions on page 4?), Bryson also has a sobering commentary on the history of the trail, man’s devastating logging and hunting practices, and the sociological quirks of the regions he visits. His visit to Centralia, Pennsylvania is both haunting and disturbing. From the blundering beginnings of trying to buy the correct equipment (and use it properly) to the soberly fact the Appalachian Trail is over 2,000 miles long and they will never finish it, Bryson and Katz experience the best and worst of an iconic trail. Even though they end up skipping the AT from Gatlinburg, Tennessee to Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, the pair learn more about America (and themselves) than they bargained for. A Walk in the Woods made me want to find my own little piece of the trail and hike it, just to say I did.

Reason read: Bill Bryson was born in December. Read A Walk in the Woods in his honor.

Author fact: Bryson had moved his family to the other side of the pond. This hike was a “coming home” of sorts.

Book trivia: Supposedly, A Walk in the Woods is being made into a movie.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Bill Bryson: Too Good To Miss” (p 37). I have 13 different Bryson books to read. The one I am looking forward to reading the most is Palace Under the Alps.

In a Strange City

Lippman, Laura. In a Strange City. Read by Barbara Rosenblat. New York: Recorded Books, 2009.

Here’s what is nice about In a Strange City: if you have skipped other books in the Tess Monaghan series, you can get caught up pretty quickly without repetitiveness in this book. When I last left Miss Monaghan in Butchers Hill, her best friend was in Japan, she was kind of seeing Crow, her aunt was jumping from man to man searching for the right relationship and Tess was in business with someone else. Now, Whitney is back from Tokyo, Crow and Tess practically live together (Tess is out of her Aunt’s place and in a real house now), her aunt is now dating Tyner and Tess has her own private investigation business (and she still has her greyhound. Yay!). Because Lippman is so smooth at bringing the reader up to speed, I feel like I just stepped out of the room for a minute. My only question – there was no mention of Tess rowing or working out at all. Did the fitness buff drop all that completely?

As a private detective, Tess Monaghan is back and this time she has taken on a case quite by accident. A man claiming to have been scammed in an antiques deal wants Tess to take his case. Although Tess refuses, Crow convinces her to check out the man’s claims. Through this interaction, Tess ends up witnessing a murder, finding out the would-be client doesn’t exist, and then she starts receiving strange gifts and messages at work and then at home. Somehow, she knows, the all of this is connected. She knows someone wants her on the case. She couldn’t stay out of it if she tried. Out of sheer curiosity she starts working the case…without a real client to speak of. It all hinges on the mysteriously “Poe Toaster”, a unknown man who symbolically has a drink with the ghost of famed author, Edgar Allan Poe, every January 19th.

Confession: I really liked the prologue, from the killer’s point of view. The descriptive writing was magical.

Reason read: to continue the series started with Baltimore Blues in September to honor Baltimore’s Book Festival.

Author fact: I am surprised Lippman hasn’t been voted Baltimore’s best voice. She crams more facts about Charm City into her books than anyone else I have ever read.

Reader fact: Narrator Barbara Rosenblat was deemed the “golden voice of the 20th century” by AudioFile magazine.

Book trivia: In a Strange City made the New York Times “most notable” list.

Audio trivia: So, I was checking out the info on the audio case and was very surprised to read, “In a Strange City is Lippman’s second Monaghan mystery.” My first thought was, “Oh crap! I’m reading this series out of order…again!” Leave it to me to blame myself first and foremost. I went to Lippman’s site and clicked on the Tess Monaghan tab and read In a Strange City is actually number six on the list. Number two is Charm City, which I skipped, thanks to Pearl. I’m going to trust the author is correct and say, with confidence, I am reading the Monaghan series in order. Lippman, of all people, should know the order of her series. Right?

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Baltimore” (p). Simple and to the point.