Short History of Nearly Everything

Bryson, Bill. A Short History of Nearly Everything. Read by Bill Bryson.

Reason read: Bill Bryson was born in the month of December. Read in his honor.

When I first started reading A Short History of Nearly Everything I wanted to document every “history” Bryson exposed and explained. I thought it would be fun except for the fact I quickly lost track. Short History starts out simple enough: the history of the atom and an explanation of the inflation theory. In other words, the history of you and the universe respectively. Then there’s a deeper dive into the question of space, the galaxy and our place in the solar system. Somehow we moved onto inverse square law and the weight (literally) of the world. We explore volcanoes and earthquakes and the (un)predictability of natural disasters. Then there are the disasters that are not so quite natural which man insists on taking part like free diving. Then there are the bugs and so on and so forth.
Probably one of the best sections was about the struggle to make Pluto a planet. We determined we had four rocky inner planets, four gassy outer planets…and one teeny, tiny lone ball of ice.
The obvious drawback to reading something out of date is the predictions for the future are now obsolete.
what I have learned from reading Short History is not the what Bryson explains but how it’s explained. The telling is everything.

Quotes I just had to quote. Here is an example of Bryson’s humor, “Being you is not a gratifying experience at the atomic level” (p 5), and “Of course, it is possible that alien beings travel billions of miles to amuse themselves by planting crop circles in Wiltshire or frightening the daylights out of some poor guy in a pickup truck on a lonely road in Arizona (they must have teenagers, after all), but it does seem unlikely” (p 27).

Author fact: I poked around Bill Bryson’s FaceBook page. It’s pretty funny.

Book trivia: I am listening to the audio version read by Bill Bryson. Pearl may think that the book itself shouldn’t be missed, but I say the book actually read by the author shouldn’t be missed either.

Nancy said: Pearl has an asterisk next to A Short History of Nearly Everything as one Bryson book that especially shouldn’t be missed. I said that already.

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


Saddest Pleasure

Thomsen, Moritz. The Saddest Pleasure: a Journey on Two Rivers. Saint Paul, Minnesota: Greywolf Press, 1990.

Reason read: In honor of Brazil’s first emperor. His coronation was on December 1st, 1822.

When we catch up to Martin Moritz Thomsen Titus in The Saddest Pleasure he is now sixty-three years old. Depending on which review you read, Thomsen either was asked to leave the Ecuadorian farm he co-owned with partner, Ramon, or he just up and left. Either way, in the beginning of The Saddest Pleasure he sets out to travel to Amazonian Brazil via two rivers. Along his journey he tries to reconcile difficult memories of a contentious relationship with his father, while wrangling with the effects of aging and mourning the loss of the farm he shared with Ramon. He seems sarcastically obsessed with being a farmer and very reluctant to admit he is a writer because farming seems the more noble profession. In fact, in my opinion, the entire book is more of a look back at the should haves, could haves, and would haves of his life. A lot of cantankerous regret is interspersed in the memory. He calls travel the saddest pleasure, but I would say the saddest pleasure was reading this book.

Line I loved, “I have lived too long with poor people to sit now in the middle of all this jewelry and the electronic crapola and the whores and the gangsters who want to own it, eating overpriced food, listening for eight hours straight to Muzak’s plastic masturbatory music not to feel a profound disorientation” (p 21).
Here’s another, “Starved for protein, crippled by malnutrition, they have lost about 20% of their intelligence” (p 84).

Author fact: Thomsen lived another ten years after The Saddest Pleasure. I surely hope he found happiness in that remaining time.

Book trivia: Some view The Saddest Pleasure as the completion to a trilogy about Moritz’s time in the Peace Corps. Living Poor was considered book one (also on my Challenge list), and Farm on the River of Emeralds was book two. Another interesting fact about The Saddest Pleasure is that it won the 1991 Governor’s Writers Award.
As an aside, my copy of Saddest Pleasure has an amazing cover illustrated by Alfredo Arreguin.

Nancy said: Pearl said she found Thomsen’s memoir “to be utterly enthralling” (Book Lust To Go p 43). She then went on to take up considerable real estate in the chapter quoting The Saddest Pleasure, as she admits, “the book is filled with quotable lines” (p 44). Yes, yes it is.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter simply called “Brazil” (p 43).


People’s History of the Supreme Court

Irons, Peter. A People’s History of the Supreme Court: The Men and Women whose Cases and Decisions Have Shaped Our Constitution. New York: Penguin Books, 1999.

Reason read: in celebration of the Constitution.

We begin, as they say, from the beginning. The year is 1787 and the controversies of the day are slavery and racial segregation, free speech and a woman’s right to end her pregnancy. What year are we in now? Aren’t we still battling against racial discrimination? Aren’t we still fighting for free speech and women’s rights? What’s that saying? The more things change, the more they stay the same? It is disheartening to think we have been railing against crooked judges since the beginning of the Supreme Court. Its inception had a rocky start. Rutledge was deranged and Wilson was jailed for debt, just to name a few examples. It makes you realize the abuse of power really is timeless. McKinley was able to place a brilliant conservative justice with an incompetent one. Sound familiar? Fear and intimidation has not changed. Since the beginning of the Supreme Court there have been men who serve as chief justice who cannot separate personal bias from judicial duty.
On the other hand, time marches on and some things do change. At the time of writing, Irons’s world consisted of a Supreme Court that had been mostly all white and mostly all old men. We have made some strides to having a diversified Supreme Court. So…there is that. Also, consider this: in the 1920’s a woman had her own minimum wage. Isn’t that special?
I could go on and on. Last comment:Even though this is geared towards a tenth grade reader, it is an important book. Everyone should take a stab at it. If not to see where we are going, but to see where we have been.

Author fact: Peter Irons called Howard Zinn a mentor. Additionally, Irons was arrested in 1963 for refusing to serve in the military. If you were a conscientious objector, you had to have a religion to cite as your reason for not fighting.

Book trivia: for the longest time A People’s History of the Supreme Court has been used as a law and history textbook across the country.

Nancy said: Pearl called A People’s History of the Supreme Court “readable” (p 136).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Legal Eagles in Nonfiction” (p 135).


A Long Way From Home

Briscoe, Connie. A Long Way From Home. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999.

Reason read: Briscoe’s birth month is Devember. Read in her honor.

Clara starts off as a nearly eleven year old slave, owned by former president James Madison. As she grows up, she struggles to conform to the polite, obedient, and subservient ways of her mother and aunts, all house slaves in the Montpelier mansion. The inevitable and imminent death of President Madison means unclear futures for all of his slaves, field and house. Whispered questions like, ‘when he finally died would they be freed?’ ‘Could they stay on the plantation, especially if it is all they ever knew?’ scatter through hallways like runaway marbles on a tile floor. Would Madison’s slaves even have a choice? What no one saw coming was Madison’s awful stepson, Todd, taking over as Massa of Montpelier. His attraction to Clara sets off a terrible chain of events and life changes for everyone involved.
This is supposed to be the story of three generations of house slaves: Susie, Clara, and Susan. Susie is barely in the story, but Clara passes on her feisty nature to her daughter Susan. When Susan is sold away to satisfy a debt, readers follow her coming of age, growth into womanhood, and emerging sense of independence.
Aside from a great character story, A Long Way From Home is a fantastic historical fiction. Events of the Civil War described in detail color the fate of the south and give the story an interesting perspective.

Telling quotes, “These days, no one wearing a skirt at Montpelier ever slept alone when Mass Todd and his buddies were around” (p 70).

Author fact: According the back flap of A Long Way From Home Briscoe is a descendant of the slaves on the Madison family plantation. This story is her story.

Book trivia: I could see this made into a movie. It has an important story to tell so why isn’t it a movie?

Nancy said: Pearl said to consider A Long Way From Home for the reading list when considering African American fiction written by women.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “African American Fiction: She Says” (p 16).


In the Wilderness

Undset, Sigrid. The Master of Hestviken: In the Wilderness. Alfred A. Knopf. 1962.

Reason read: So. I had this pen pal from Norway. We never met in person but became friends because of a mutual love for Natalie Merchant’s music. It was fun.

So. When we last left Olav Audunsson his wife, Ingunn, had finally died after a super long illness. Left alone with two children, a biological daughter, Cecelia, and an adopted son, Eiric, Olav struggles to rebuild his life. He is still overshadowed by immense guilt about past transgressions. Additionally, throughout The Snake Pit Olav was not well liked by his community. He didn’t make an effort to belong in any way. Now, awash in grief, Olav is drift in more ways than one, prompting him to travel to London, England for a bit. Upon his return he agrees to foster the young daughter of a dying friend. It’s this act which brings Olav back to life. This is enough to spur Olav on to fight for his homestead; to risk life and limb in a bloody battle against the Swedes. This might be somewhat of a spoiler alert, but Olav survives the bitter war but is gravely wounded in the face. His disfigurement lends Olav a somber grace he has not felt before.

Quote to quote, “He saw now it was not his suffering that destroyed the happiness of his life – a man may be happier while he suffers than when his days are good” (p 196). Amen.

Author fact: Undset was actually born in Denmark even though she is one of Norway’s best loved novelists.

Book trivia: In the Wilderness is the penultimate book in the Master of Hestviken series.

Nancy said: As with other books in the Master of Heskviken series, Pearl called In the Wilderness a masterpiece.

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


Aguero Sisters

Garcia, Cristina. The Aguero Sisters. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.

Reason read: December is the best month to visit the Caribbean. I thought I had removed the “best time to travel to [fill in the blank]” but I guess not.

The Aguero Sisters starts with a bang (pun totally intended). Ignacio and Blanca Aguero are a husband and wife naturalist team, slogging through the Zapata swamp shooting specimens for a U.S. based museum. Suddenly forty-four year old Ignacio turns the gun on his wife and pulls the trigger…The mystery of what really happened in the swamp on that day in 1948 doesn’t become clear until much, much later.
The rest of the novel follows the lives of Ignacio’s adult daughters and their very different lives. Constancia Aguero Cruz lives in New York, married to a tobacco shop owner with a daughter in Oahu and a son in Morningside Heights, New York. She has been kept apart from her sister in Cuba for as long as she can remember, but she doesn’t really know why. Reina was only six when her mother died. She still lives in Cuba as an electrician and mechanic and has many passions, seducing married men. She has a daughter, Dulcita, in Madrid, Spain. Interspersed between this current-day, third-person narrative is Ignacio’s first person account of his life, starting with remembering his parents, Reinaldo and Soledad Aguero. Through his accounts, the history of Ignacio and his daughters becomes clearer and clearer, like sediment settling in the bottom of a glass of murky water once the agitation of stirring has stopped.

Line I liked, “Reina stares out the window for hours trying to make sense of the density of stars” (p 39). Me too, Reina. Me too.

Other lines worth mentioning, “she is the first to admit she has a low threshold for disorder” (p 27), “My sense of smell is heightened by hunger” (p 205), and “A confidence in her walk is what gives birth to lust” (p 233).

Author fact: Like her characters, Garcia grew up in Havana and New York.

Book trivia: Garcia does a fantastic job fleshing out the characters of The Aguero Sisters. So much so that I felt it necessary to take notes on all the details.

Nancy said: Pearl included the Aguero Sisters as one example of wonderful novels being turned out by Cuban emigres.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Cuba Si!” (p 68).


Without Fail

Child, Lee. Without Fail. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2002

Reason read: to continue the series started in July in honor of New York becoming a state…never mind the connection. Just go with it.

When we catch up to Jack Reacher this time, he is in Atlantic City. But, not for very long. He somehow finds himself in Washington D.C., approached by a Secret Service agent who needs his help. Another damsel in distress. This one has ties to his dead brother, so how can he say no? Agent M.E. Froelich wants, errr no, needs to test the holes in her security detail guarding the newly elected vice-president, Brook Armstrong. She tells Reacher she’s just a girl playing in a competitive man’s world and those resentful men? They’re all out to get her; prove she’s horrible at her job. What Reacher doesn’t know is this isn’t really a test. No one is bitter about Froelich’s position. Instead, Vice President Armstrong has been receiving very real death threats. Now Reacher is in it deep and he can’t back out. He needs to figure out who is behind the threats before the vice president is assassinated. The clock is ticking…

A few annoyances. This is the first time I have to agree with Pearl. She said you didn’t need to read the Reacher series in order. I agree because in Without Fail Reacher asserts he has never owned anything. Not true. In Echo Burning he unloaded a house previously left to him by a military mentor. In truth he owned that.
Second annoyance. Froelich. She is Joe Reacher’s former lover. She is definitely not over the breakup (as he left her) and even less over Joe’s death. She talks a tough talk but every other second she’s bringing up Joe. She weirdly blames Jack for everything. As a member of the secret service I thought she would be a little tougher than that.

Author fact: Did I ever mention that, according to Child’s website, he also is 6’4″ just like his character, Jack Reacher? Hmmmm…

Book trivia: Without Fail is the sixth book in the Reacher series.

Nancy said: Nothing specific about Without Fail.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Lee Child: Too Good To Miss” (p 42).


Art of Travel

de Botton, Alain. The Art of Travel. Narrated by Steven Crossley. Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2002.

Reason read: Alin de Botton was born in December. Read in his honor.

Travel isn’t always what it is cracked up to be. There is something about planning a trip that is inherently more delicious than actually taking the journey. Then afterwards when you get home, you find the time away did not live up to the expectation of all the planning. Alain de Botton invites you to travel in a way you have never considered before. When you finally arrive at your destination, he welcomes you to closely inspect your surroundings in ways you didn’t know you could or should; to see beyond merely looking. Upon reading Art of Travel he makes you want to stand in the spot where van Gogh’s little yellow house used to stand in Arles, France; where you’ll find yourself a little sad it was destroyed in World War II. I could go on and on with other examples, but I think it’s best to read the book.

Author fact: Alain de Botton is a philosopher so of course his book, The Art of Travel is going to get deep. If you ever get a chance, look Alain up on YouTube. His Day III video on the art of travel is hysterical in a panic-attack kind of way.

Book trivia: The illustrations and photographs in Art of Travel are stunning.

Nancy said: Pearl said The Art of Travel is an example of “delightful writing with lots of observations to mull over” (Book Lust To Go p 260).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Where in the World Do These Books Belong?” (p 260).


Wicked Pavilion

Powell, Dawn. Novels 1944 – 1962: The Wicked Pavilion. New York: Library of the America, 2001.

Reason read: Powell was born in November. Read in her honor. Powell also died in the month of November. Also read in her memory.

The first word that comes to mind when I think of The Wicked Pavilion is snarky. To flesh that out, it is a snarky satire about New York in all its glory. This is the second postwar satire Powell published and with every intent, laid bare all of Greenwich Village’s shortcomings. Set mostly in Cafe Julien, Pavilion’s characters are all hot messes. Unsuccessful in romance and unsuccessful at success they spend a great deal of time whining and complaining to and about each other.

Quotes I really liked, “We get sick of our clinging vines…but the day comes when we suspect that the vines are all that hold our rotting branches together” (p 697) and “She was never to be spared, Ellenora thought, a little frightened at the role he had given her of forever forgiving him and then consoling him for having hurt her, inviting more hurt by understanding and forgiving it” (p 720). Such a hopeless situation.

Author fact: Powell also wrote My home is Far Away, The Locusts Have No King, and The Golden Spur. All of these titles are on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: According to the chronology in Novels 1944 – 1962, Powell begins work on Wicked Pavilion in 1950 but doesn’t publish it until four years later (p 950 – 952).

Nancy said: Pearl just said Gore Vidal wrote an essay about the works of Dawn Powell for David Madden’s Rediscoveries and Rediscoveries II (both on my Challenge list) which is how Pearl came to include them in More Book Lust.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Book Lust of Others” (p 33).


Bastard of Istanbul

Shafak, Elif. The Bastard of Istanbul. Read by Laural Merlington. Old Saybrook, CT: Tantor Audio, 2007.

Reason read: I needed a book by an author with my initials for the Portland Public Library 2019 Reading Challenge.

This is an example of getting so caught up in a book that you forget to take notes while reading. I finished this a week ago and never wrote a single note. Which means I didn’t capture favorite lines either. Bummer.

Two teenage girls with more in common than they think. Asya, born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey is surrounded by an eclectic family of overbearing, opinionated women with not a man in sight. Asya rages against her current life and past history because she thinks she doesn’t have an identity she can believe in. Nothing is of permanence. She has never known her birth father, she cleaves herself to a relationship with a married man, and calls her mother auntie, like the other three of five women in her household. Two grandmothers round out the chaotic family household.
Meanwhile, Armanoush is of Armenian descent, living in Tuscon, Arizona. She, too, is struggling to make sense of her roots as her stepfather is Turkish. There is no avoiding the historical significance of having an Armenian father and Turkish stepfather. This stepfather happens to be Asya’s uncle as well.
When Armanoush decides to visit Asya and her family for answers, the past rolls back in like a tsunami, taking down everything in its path. As I mentioned before, this is a captivating story and it will sweep you away with its twists and turns.

Author fact: Shafak also wrote The Forty Rules of Love which is on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: This should be a movie.

Nancy said: Pearl said The Bastard of Istanbul is one of three novels of note. Specifically, BoI is “engrossing.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Turkish Delights” (p 240). I don’t know if anyone else was reminded of this when they read the title of this chapter, but I immediately thought of C.S. Lewis’s The Lion the Witch, and the Wardrobe. If I ever meet Pearl again, I will have to ask! Because if she meant the reference as I thought it, it is subtle and clever and I love it.


Israel is Real

Cohen, Rich. Israel is Real: an Obsessive Quest to Understand the Jewish Nation and Its History. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009.

Reason read: Resolution 181 is a United Nations resolution passed in November 1947 calling for the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states. As an aside, Natalie Merchant sang a song about Resolution 181. Of course she did.

Like a slingshot pulling back for the attack, Cohen pulls us back in history to preface Israel as a reality. You expect Israel is Real to be a dry, potentially boring account of Jewish history when in reality Cohen is the storyteller with the sparkle in his eye. It is as if he is telling you a bedtime story by an open fire; urging you to lean in and listen close. He makes historical figures seem like old friends, historical events seem like he participated in them.
As an aside, my least favorite part of reading Israel is Real was stopping to read the extensive footnote at the bottom of nearly every page. While the footnotes contained interesting information, it was like hitting every single red light and getting behind every student – laden school bus on the way to work.

I plan to visit Rome in the next year or so. This line gave me pause, “In choking Jerusalem, Rome was the brain come to stop its own hear, the body come to kill its own soul” (p 25).

Someone asked me how I supported diversity and before I could control my mouth I blurted out, by not making an issue out of it. In retrospect, I think I was trying to say my workplace doesn’t discriminate but more importantly, doesn’t notice how or oven if someone is different. So, when Cohen pointed out Superman has a Jewish name (Kal-El being the Hebrew word for strength) and was created by two teenage Jews, I didn’t have an Ah Ha moment. It just made sense.

Author fact: Rich Cohen has his own website here.

Book trivia: Israel is Real includes a small section of black and white photographs.

Nancy said: Pearl called Cohen’s Israel is Real “illuminating and provocative” (Book Lust To Go p 144).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “A Mention of the Middle East” (p 143).


Teaching Empathy

Henshon, Suzanne E. Teaching Empathy: Strategies for building Emotional Intelligence in Today’s Students. Texas: Prufrock Press, 2019.

Reason read: As apart of the Early Review program for LibraryThing.

The thought I kept returning to over and over again while reading Henshon’s book, Teaching Empathy, is everything she says seems like it should be common sense. I’ve come to the conclusion she gives deceptively simple advice in a very short book (less than 150 pages). Yes, we should be aware of the differences in our society. We should be taking that awareness and creating action that makes a strong and lasting impact. We know this and yet instead, we live in a society which places blame on outsiders. We are given permission to hate any and everyone we cannot understand. Our current administration encourages us to act intolerant and is completely dismissive of our ignorance. Henshon’s book is deceptively simple because in our heart of hearts we know we should be practicing empathy as well as teaching it to our children. Her book is timely, but is it too late?

Here’s what I wish I could have seen in Henshon’s book. I get hung up on how interchangeable some words can be. It seems as though people use sympathy and empathy to mean the same thing. Kindness and thoughtfulness. Concern and caring. All of these things are signs of emotional intelligence but have different meanings attached to them. What they mean to Henshon on a personal and intellectual level would have been next level.

Author fact: Henshon has written numerous books.


Echo Burning

Child, Lee. Echo Burning. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2001.

Reason read: to continue the series started in July…

Jack Reacher always seems to end up on the wrong side of the law. It’s almost as if he thrives on being framed. Damned if he does…damned if he doesn’t. This time, on the run for beating up a cop, Reacher finds himself involved with helping a battered Mexican woman escape her racist white husband. Even when all signs point to Carmen being a liar Reacher stays. Even when he has the means to walk away from this prejudice drama Reacher stays. He stays because he believes Carmen and her small daughter really are in grave danger. [My comment here is for all Reacher’s insistence to avoid real world attachments, for he has no clothes, no house, no bank accounts, no car, no family or friends…he certainly gets entrapped by attachments of the heart often enough. He can’t say no to a lady in need. But, this is the first time in the series Reacher doesn’t get sexually involved. Carmen certainly tries to seduce him in order to guarantee his help getting away from her husband; and the woman Reacher is attracted to turns out to be a lesbian.
But, back to the plot. This is Texas where the heat is oppressive and ranch families are even more so. Reacher’s damsel in distress finally takes matters into her own hands. Again, Reacher could walk away. Case closed. But. He can’t.

As an aside, I love how crafty Child can get with the details. He makes one villain of a subplot smoke in a rented vehicle leaving ash everywhere thereby forcing the rental agency to thoroughly clean the car of his existence when he returns it.

Author fact: In a previous novel, Child gave us a play by play of exactly how a gun works. This time, he knows horses; how to saddle them, ride them, care for them.

Book trivia: a Crown Vic and a gun of some kind always seems to show up in a Jack Reacher novel. Additionally, Echo Burning is the fourth book out of eight Pearl recommended reading.

Nancy said: Pearl said it was not necessary to read Child’s books in order. However, I find it helpful to stick to the chronology because Reacher’s story continues in each installment. For example, at the end of the previous book Reacher’s girlfriend leaves him to take a job in London. He wasn’t too broken up about it by the time you catch up with him in Echo Burning, but how he explained the situation to his new damsel in distress is interesting because I already knew the situation.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the obvious chapter “Lee Child: Too Good To Miss” (p 41).


Silverland

Murphy, Dervla. Silverland: a Winter Journey Beyond the Urals. London: John Murray, 2006.

Reason read: Murphy was born in the month of November. Read in her honor.

Silverland is a well detailed account of Dervla Murphy’s slow train trip across the barren Russian landscape via BAM, the Baikal-Amur Mainline. When I say slow, I mean slow. Like 20 miles an hour slow. She prefered it this way. As she traveled she recounted the history and statistics of BAM, mourning the loss of Siberian and Ewenki cultures, stoically observed societal norms (the tragedy of “vodka orphans” strikes a chord), and waxed about political change; all the while struggling to communicate with the people she met. The language barrier sometimes prevented her from embarking on heavy and/or controversial debates or more importantly, finding out the location of her beloved bicycle, Pushkin. She is very knowledgeable about the country’s history and could hold her own throughout her extensive travels.

My favorite parts of Silverland occurred when Murphy painted a romantic image of the Siberian countryside. For example, as she rides the rails she observes steam from hot springs meeting a shaft of sunlight and pronounces the region, “a magical silverland” (p 63).
Murphy is also a humorist, affectionately referring to her overburdened suitcase as “Dog” and “Pushkin” is her bicycle. I do the same thing.

I am always pleased when a book urges me to learn more. I admit I did not know what the word ‘fubsy’ meant. Nor had I heard of the Baikal-Amur Mainline before reading Silverland. My favorite new knowledge was that of Tynde’s “pear custom.” They give a departing guest one half of a pear, urging the guest to come back to eat the other half. We on Monhegan give flowers to departing guests. If the flowers wash ashore, the guest will also return.

Quotations to quote, “I am not so far out of my tree to advocate for the elimination of motor vehicles” (p 52) and “…dawn is the best time to arrive in an unknown city” (p 87).

Author fact: Murphy was born in Ireland. A more interesting fact I learned after reading Silverland is Murphy had three granddaughters and eight pets at the time she embarked on the Siberian journey.

Book trivia: Silverland has a great set of black and white photographs.

Nancy said: Pearl nothing specific about Silverland. She did mention this was Murphy’s second trip to the region.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Siberian Chills” (p 205).


Snake Pit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy said: Pearl said Snake Pit was a masterpiece.

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