Shtetl

Hoffman, Eva. Shtetl: the Life and Death of a Small Town and the World of Polish Jews. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

Reason read: in honor of Hannukah.

Inspired by a documentary Hoffman saw on Frontline, this is the biography of Bransk, a Polish town that no longer exists thanks to the thoroughness of the Nazis under Russian rule. One of the most difficult segments to read was the recounting of young Bransk boys conscripted into the Russian army. They were religiously converted away from their birthright and upon returning home, shunned by their own people.
As an aside, I am afraid of cult figures and the power they can wield over seemingly intelligent people. I was surprised to learn of a man in the 1750s by the name of Jakub Frank who claimed he was the Messiah. He wanted to rule all of Poland and had a strong sexual appetite for young girls and orgies.

Quotes to quote, “I believe that if we are to understand what happened in Poland during the war, we must begin by acknowledging, from within each memory, the terrible complexity of everyone’s circumstances and behavior” (p 6).

Author fact: Hoffman grew up in Cracow, Poland.

Book trivia: Shtetl was written after Hoffman saw a documentary by the same name of Frontline in 1996.

Nancy said: Pearl admires Hoffman’s writing and reads everything she publishes, but for the Challenge I am only reading Shtetl. Pearl would have bought Shtetl for someone exploring Jewish roots.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Polish Up Your Polish” (p 181) and from More Book Lust in the chapter called “A Holiday Shopping List” (p 114).


Lottery

Jackson, Shirley. The Lottery. Amereon Limited, 1976.

I don’t think I have to explain the plot to anyone. In one sentence: it is the short story of a community that annually choses someone to stone to death. I had so many questions as a teenager reading The Lottery in high school. Who was the third person narrator and why do they never express emotion or share the thoughts and feelings of other characters? It’s as if the scene they describe is too horrible for humanity and they purposely keep their distance by staying out of the other characters’ heads. As a result, the dialogue has to be heavy and masterful enough to carry the action. Otherwise, no one would understand what is truly going on. The other questions I had: Who was Mr. Summers and why does he get to conduct the lottery? Who came up with the black box in the first place? If everyone avoids the black box and keeps their distance from it, why have it around at all? No one wanted to help Mr. Summers even move it. Did this community continue using the box just because of tradition? Lastly, how does Jackson as a young mother come up with something like this?

Reason read: Shirley Jackson was born in December. Read in her honor.

Author fact: Jackson is bets known for her horror.

Book trivia: The Lottery first appeared in “The New Yorker in 1948. It was awarded the O Henry Award in 1963.

Nancy said: Pearl described The Lottery as “endlessly anthologized.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Ghost Stories” (p 100).


My Soul to Take

Sigurdardottir, Yrsa. My Soul to Take: a Novel of Iceland. New York: William Morrow, 2006.

Reason read: Denmark’s Parliament granted Iceland independence in December 1918.

The tiny Icelandic town of Snaefellsness is not known for a high crime rate, so when two people are murdered in a similar fashion, the whole town buzzes with alarmed alertness. Why would anyone torture both victims with pins in their feet before killing them? More questions: what does a dead fox have to do with one of the victims? Does the New Age health resort in an old farmhouse have anything to do with either victim? What secrets are hidden in this renovated farmhouse? Thora Gudmundsdottir, lawyer to the owner of the resort, must defend Jonas as the main suspect, but that’s not why she was initially called to Snaefellsness. Her client was planning to sue the previous owners of the farmhouse because they didn’t disclose it was haunted. The ghosts of children are said to moan and wail on the property.
Sigurdardottir is crafty. The introduction of World War II Nazi flags and swastikas gave the plot a darker (and unnecessary) tone. The themes of incest and rape are enough.

Confessional: because Icelandic names do not roll off the tongue so easily for me, and there a lot of them, I needed to keep notes on who was who for most of the story. I found myself asking, “will this person be important later?”

Author fact: Sigurdardottir also writes books for children.

Book trivia: My Soul to Take is book #2 in a series featuring lawyer/single mother, Thora Gudmundsdottir. True to form, I read Sigurdardottir’s books out of order. She also wrote Last Rituals which I should have read before My Soul to Take.

Playlist: “Eye of the Tiger” and “Final Countdown,”

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about My Soul to Take but I should note I missed the word “series.” Ugh.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Iceland” (p 99). Doesn’t get any simpler than that.


The Sound and the Fury

Faulkner, William. Novels 1926 – 1929: The Sound and the Fury. The Library of America, 2006.

Reason read: December is Southern Fiction month. Luckily, this is the last Faulkner I have to read.

I wish I could say I adored The Sound and the Fury. I feel like I have an obligation to at least like Faulkner’s writing style because it is so close to another author I actually love, James Joyce. Faulkner appears to be heavily influenced by the Irish author.
Even though Sound got easier and easier to read as I went along, I couldn’t like the characters. Getting into the minds of the three Compson brothers didn’t help. Benjamin, Quentin, and Jason’s narratives all blur together and become one complicated and tangled stream of consciousness. I learned early on that the trick to Faulkner is to remember chronology is of little importance, the duplicity of names can be confusing, and for The Sound and the Fury, you must be comfortable with themes of mental illness, incest, and suicide. Virginity is a commodity in southern fiction. The moral of the story is every tree has a few secret nuts.

Lines I found myself liking: “She approved of Gerald associating with me because I at least revealed a blundering sense of noblesse oblige by getting myself born below the Mason and Dixon, and a few others whose Geography met the requirements (minimum)” (p 947), and “Honeysuckle is the saddest odor of all, I think” (p 1007). Not a line, but I liked the random illustrated eye.
As an aside, I would like to see the Sound and the Fury movie. I think I might understand the plot a little better if I did.

Author fact: Faulkner skipped the second grade and his surname used to be spelled without the ‘u.’

Book trivia: the appendix includes 46 years of Compson history, some helpful and some not so much.

Nancy said: Pearl called all of Faulkner’s novels “enduring.” Just how they endure, I don’t know.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Southern Fried Fiction” (p 205).


Spartina

Casey, John. Spartina. New York: Vintage Books, 1998.

Reason read: Read in respect for the December storms that batter the New England coastline.

Rhode Islander Dick Pierce suffers from a throat-strangling envy of the rich people who flock to his touristy seaside town of Narragansett every summer. His mistress calls it “class-rage.” Money, or the lack of it, makes Dick an ornery man. Most of the time he is able to control his disdain for the wealthy nonsense, but every once in awhile his temper will flare. It is difficult for him, as a year-rounder, to make a back-breaking living as a commercial fisherman while watching his neighbors folic in the house his family used to own. With a wife and two sons to support Dick knows he needs to captain his own vessel to bring in a better profit. He can’t make ends meet crewing for someone else. His saving grace is a 50-foot boat he calls Spartina he has been slowly building in the back yard. Now all he needs is an engine. Desperation to put Spartina in the water leads Dick down a dangerous path of foolish choices and regrettable actions. Drugs, adultery, theft. Nothing is off limits when a man is driven.
Confessional: I couldn’t decide if I liked the main character.

Author fact: Casey has a very intimate knowledge of boats, down to the very last detail. He is from Worcester, just down the road from me.

Book trivia: the history of Rhode Island is threaded through Spartina. It was unexpected to get a little lesson on the Narragansett tribe and their intended use of wampum.

Playlist: “Autumn Leaves,” “Yellow Rose of Texas,” “Maybe, Baby,” “Stars and Stripes Forever,” Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison.

Nancy said: Pearl said “You could do far worse than spend a reading life perusing books by Iowa’s distinguished MFA alumni…” (Book Lust p 107).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust twice. First in the chapter called “Ecofiction” (p 78) and again in “Growing Writers” (p 107). Even though Pearl included this in a chapter called “Ecofiction” it didn’t rule the plot.


The Mother Tongue

Bryson, Bill. The Mother Tongue: English & How It Got That Way. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1990.

Reason read: December is Bill Bryson’s birth month. Read in his honor.

The language that we speak is akin to breathing. What I mean to say is you really don’t thinking about breathing in or breathing out. You just do it. Same with talking. Most of us don’t think often or long enough about the words we use. Even less of us think about where those words came from in the first place. Language is a powerful tool, used for good, evil or even just plain fun. Think about how lawyers can twist an innocent person’s words into an admission of guilt. Crossword puzzles are counting on you to think of the wrong use or meaning of a word when you are trying to fill in the squares. Jokes are often based on word play: either funny or groan-worthy puns. Words matter. When words are strung together to form sentences, they mean even more. Bryson’s Mother Tongue is nothing short of a run-on sentence about language facts. Page after page after page of witticisms about words. An onslaught of linguistic trivia. That is not to say I did not enjoy Mother Tongue. I found it fascinating to learn that Robert Lowth simply didn’t care for the pairing of “you” and “was” and demanded it be changed to “you were.” Explanation for some grammatical rules “they are because they are” is the equivalent of a parent saying “because I said so.” I enjoyed learning that the word asparagus comes from the combined words sparrow and grass and that al fresco in Italian does not mean being outside, but rather, in prison. It reminded me of runner and anthropologist Dr. Tommy ‘Rivs’ Puzey. He taught me that you have to be careful how you pronounce Machu Picchu. The wrong emphasis could mean something completely different. Just make sure you pronounce the second ‘c’ in Picchu. Wink, wink. Probably my most favorite discovery was the word aposiopesis: the breaking off of thought. I suffer from that all the time!

Quotes to quote, “More than 300 million people in the world speak English and the rest, it sometimes seems, try to” (p 11). I would be included in that rest. another one, “When you look into the background of these “rules” there is often little basis for them” (p 141). Amen to that.

Author fact: At the time of publication Bryson was an American living it England.

Book trivia: Mother Tongue was written in 1990. What can we say about the English speaking world thirty-plus years later?

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Mother Tongue. She didn’t even give it an asterisk to indicate a must read.

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


Pastries: A Novel of Desserts and Discoveries

Kirchner, Bharti. Pastries: a Novel of Desserts and Discoveries.

Reason read: December is traditionally when a whole lot of baking goes on.

Meet Sunya. She owns a small bakery in Seattle, Washington where the star attraction is her one-of-a-kind decadent chocolate creation, Sunya Cake. Only these days head baker Sunya has lost her mojo for any kind of sweet creation. Every recipe she attempts ends in distraction and disaster. For a baker not being able to bake, that must be like a writer suffering from writer’s block. However, Sunya has more to worry about than her own failing skills. She is on the rebound from a bad break-up (the lowest of lows: a friend stole her man); her business is about to go head-to-head with a bigger, glitzier bakery (think of a chain similar to Cheesecake Factory), there is a nasty critic stoking the fires of competition, Sunya’s employees are unreliable and fickle; her shop’s lease looks like it won’t be renewed due to financial instability. To top it all off as if that wasn’t enough, Sunya suffers from latent abandonment issues and an ever-growing identity crisis. The mystery of her father’s sudden departure from the family haunts Sunya despite the fact she was only two days old at the time. Even though she is of Indian descent, Sunya best identifies with Japanese culture, but who is she really underneath it all?
Through all this, Sunya’s character is honest and believable. She isn’t above ratting out her competition to the food inspector (pun totally intended). She harbors enormous jealousy for the woman who stole her boyfriend (as mentioned before, someone she used to call her friend). She definitely has relationship issues thanks to the mystery of her father leaving her. Even sexy movie director Andrew has trouble convincing Sunya he is interested in more than just her chocolate cake.

Author fact: Kirchner also wrote The Bold Vegetarian: 150 Inspired International Recipes which was on my Challenge list even though I didn’t need to read it.

Book trivia: this should be a movie.

Playlist: Bach, Brahms, Pearl Jam, and Andres Segovia.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Pastries.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Fiction for Foodies” (p 88). See why The Bold Vegetarian shouldn’t have been on my Challenge list?


On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

Vuong, Ocean. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. New York: Penguin Press, 2019.

Reason read: Are you holding onto your hats? Are you sitting down? I’m going off the Challenge list for this one. Why? Basically, I will read everything my sister recommends. Why? She’s cool and she doesn’t waste her time with boring books.

Is it enough to say that On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is heartbreakingly beautiful? I could go on to elaborate: the language is harsh yet poignant, stark yet lush, truthful yet magical. Little Dog writes a letter to his mother to…what? Explain his choices? Tell her how her life has shaped his? Make a declaration of love to the world around him? His motives are unclear, but the language stirs the heart. For example, the imagery of a lighthouse: seen as both shelter and warning. Could a woman be both monster and mother?

Lines I loved: “We sidestep ourselves in order to move forward” (p 53). If I were a lecturer and I had actually coined that phrase I would repeat it and ask the audience to let the words sink in. There is more truth in those eight little words than I care to admit. One more to quote, “Maybe we look in mirrors not merely to seek beauty, regardless of how illusive, but to make sure, despite the facts, that we are still here” (p 138).

Book trivia: this should be a movie. Seriously. For something completely random, Vuong thanked Frank Ocean. I am wondering if this is the same Frank Ocean Dermot Kennedy thanked for the song, “Swim Good.”

Author fact: According to the back flap of On Earth… Vuong lived in Northampton in 2019. I am not a stalker so I don’t know if that’s still true. If it is, this author is less than 30 minutes from me. Cool. In a more widely (undisputed) fact, Vuong is a poet which is abundantly obvious in On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.

Playlist: Khanh Ly, Neil Young, 50 Cent, Etta James, Curtis Jackson, Chopin, Justin Timberlake, Miles Davis, Black Eyed Peas’ “Where is the Love?,” Led Zeppelin’s “Get Rich, or Die Tryin’,” “His Eye Is On the Sparrow,” “This Little Light of Mine,” and “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.”


Organizational Behavior Essentials You Always Wanted to Know

Self Learning Management Series. Organizational Behavior Essentials You always Wanted to Know: Master Organizational Behavior Concepts with This Self-Study Book and Become a Leader of Better Management Practices. Vibrant Publishers, 2021.

Reason read: As a member of LibraryThing’s Early Review Program, I requested this book in exchange for an honest review.

I have to say, right off the bat, it is off-putting to have two pages of advertising followed by four pages of what the experts say at the beginning of any book. In total there are fourteen pages wasted before you get to any actual text.
What follows is a historical overview of organizational behavior, including global perspectives. Buzzwords like diversity and inclusion are thrown in along with the concept of shared services (been there, done that). I did appreciate the idea of virtual cross functional learning and the emphasis on diversity to allow for varying perspectives and opinions. There was more a focus on global than I expected and while I appreciated the concept of a reward system that not only looks at monetary incentives but a reward of a sense of belonging there was no clear example of how to reward when the practice of making employees feel like they belong should be the norm.
Everyone is all abuzz about assessments these days and Organizational Behavior is no different. The book includes quizzes but unfortunately the numbering was full of typos. Question #9 was missing option C (and, you guessed it, C was the correct answer). Another complaint was the lack of authorship. How does one critique authority when there isn’t an author to review? One last complaint was how difficult it was to download my copy. I was told I needed to read it on a Kindle. Guess what? I don’t have one of those…


High Altitude Breakfast

Hampton, Nicole. High Altitude Breakfast: Sweet and Savory Baking at 5,000 Feet and Above. West Margin Press, 2021.

Reason read: as a member of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing, I requested this book because I have a friend who opened a restaurant that features sweet and savory pies and oh yeah, she lives in Colorado Springs (elevation 6,035 feet).

This is a gorgeous cookbook with delicious-sounding recipes. I say “sounding” because I am not in a high-altitude area and have yet to try a single recipe. I chose to review Hampton’s cookbook in hopes of a) learning more about the science behind high-altitude baking and b) converting some of the recipes for a sea-level kitchen because I am a huge fan of breakfast. I’m always looking for a new way to celebrate my favorite meal of the day. High-Altitude Breakfast does not a great deal of information about conversion aside from a chart in the back and a few tips in the beginning, but that is not to say the recipes won’t come out fantastic with a little practice. Every recipe sounded wonderful and the photography had me drooling. As an aside, I do have a friend in the restaurant business who happens to live in the Mile High City. I am hoping she will test Ms. Hampton’s creations and report back.

Author fact: Nicole Hampton writes a food blog called “Dough Eyed” and has already written a similar cookbook, Sugar High: Sweet and Savory Baking in Your High Altitude Kitchen. I’m wondering if High Altitude Breakfast is an extension of one or both of those projects.

Based on Hampton’s opening statements, I am a fan and would like to hang out in her kitchen. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day and I can eat it any time of the day.


Lucky Jim

Amis, Kingsley. Lucky Jim. New York: Penguin Classics, 1993.

Reason read: December is traditionally the month for final exams in secondary schools. Read in honor of those poor students slogging through their tests.

James Dixon is in a plum position to earn a decent spot as a lecturer in his college’s History Department. The only problem is he is falling in love with his boss’s son’s girlfriend.
You can’t help but laugh out loud during certain scenes in Lucky Jim. Amis has a way of painting the picture so clear you are in the room with the characters, whether you want to or not. The snobbery and pretentious nature of ambition on academia permeates the plot. The description of Dixon’s hangover, filled with images of excrement and death’s decay, had me smirking with remembrance. Been there, done that. I am not a smoker, but Dixon trying to ration his cigarettes gave me a chuckle as well, especially when he’s on the cigarette he should be enjoying a whole day into the future. Sadly, my accolades end there. I found almost everything else about Lucky Jim to be a bore.

Lines I liked, “The sight of her seemed an irresistible attack on his own habits, standards, and ambitions: something designed to put him in his place for good” (p 39) and “As soon as Dixon recognized the mental envelope containing this question he thrust it away from him unopened…” (p 60).

Author fact: rumor has it Amis was not a nice person. I’ve never met him so I can’t comment. He did win the Somerset Maugham Award for Lucky Jim. So there’s that.

Book trivia: One of my favorite illustrators, Edward Gorey, created a cover for an edition of Lucky Jim.

Playlist: Mozart, Richard Strauss, and “Onward Christian Soldiers,”

Nancy said: Pearl called Lucky Jim a classic.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Academia: the Joke” (p 3).


Memoirs of a Geisha

Golden, Arthur. Memoirs of a Geisha. New York: Vintage Books, 1997.

Reason read: Confessional – this is a reread for me. My sister loaned this book to me back in 1997 and I haven’t given it back. However…my rule is if I can’t remember the ending of the book, I have to reread it for the Challenge. So, in honor of Japan’s Culture Day on November 3rd, I am rereading Memoirs of a Geisha.

The concept of Memoirs of a Geisha is brilliant. One of Japan’s most celebrated geisha decides to tell her life story from the beginning. Even as a very young child Chiyo Sakamoto was smart. She knew her mother was dying of cancer and her father was too elderly to support her future. A chance encounter with Mr. Tanaka Ichiro put Chiyo and her older sister on a much different trajectory than if they had stayed in their poor seaside village. At nine years old because of her startling gray-blue eyes, Chiyo is sold into a geisha house. There she is forced to live like a 18th century scullery maid, catering to the glamorous geisha of the house. Another chance encounter, this time with a wealthy businessman nicknamed the Chairman, leads Chiyo to becoming one of the most famous geisha in all of the Gion geisha district.

Line to like, “I was just a child who thought she was embarking on a great adventure” (p 96).

Author fact: Golden started his Japanese journey studying the culture’s art.

Book trivia: Everyone knows Memoirs of a Geisha was a national best seller and was made into a movie in 2005. What people may not remember is that Memoirs of a Geisha was Golden’s debut novel. Pretty spectacular.

Nancy said: Pearl compared Memoirs to Snow Country as a romantic portrait. In the More Book Lust chapter “Men Channeling Women” (p 166), Pearl includes Memoirs in a list of good books.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Japanese Fiction” (p 131), and More Book Lust in the chapter called “Men Channeling Women” (p 166). As an aside, Memoirs of a Geisha could have been included in the chapter called “Maiden Voyages” as it is Golden’s first novel.


First World War

Keegan, John. The First World War. New York: Vintage Books, 2000.

Reason read: November 11th is Armistice Day. Read for the veterans.

World War One rocked our planet to its core. There wasn’t a corner of the globe that didn’t feel its effects in some way or another. Historians like John Keegan call it the Great War because it left over ten million people dead and countless others shattered both mentally and physically beyond recognition. As Keegan explains, it was the first time world powers used ferocious modernized brutality to subdue their military enemies along with innocent women, children, and livestock. No living creature stood a chance against this new age of warfare. Keegan pushes you into the muddy trenches, onto the blood soaked battle fields, and into the intimate lives of courageous but doomed soldiers. Against this bloody backdrop Keegan also brilliantly sheds light on secret political and religious negotiations, heated war-room strategies, and closed-door council room debates. With Keegan you travel to the Western front, East Africa, the Carpathians and beyond. This is a comprehensive history of one of the most polarizing events known to man.

Confessional: I am usually not a history fanatic, especially when it comes to war of any kind.
Second confessional: I am not a proofreader by any means, but this seems a little too obvious a mistake to overlook, “The French did not speak English, French scarcely any French; General Henry Wilson, Deputy Chief of Staff, translated” (The First World War p 103).

Author fact: Keegan is the master of historical warfare. I am also reading The Second World War for the Challenge.

Book Trivia: The Frist World War offers three sections of photographs and a bunch of maps, all in black and white.

Plat list: “Sambre et Meuse,” and “Le Chant du depart”

Nancy said: Pearl said there are many good general military histories and Keegan’s is one of them.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “World War I Nonfiction” (p 251).


Echo Maker

Powers, Richard. Echo Maker. London: Picador, 2007.

Reason read: November is National Writing Month. I chose Echo Maker for the category of National Book Award Winner.

What would you do if your only brother, the younger sibling you have protected since birth, has a terrible automobile accident that leaves him utterly convinced you are not kin; that you are an imposter? According to him you are a replica, a fake, a fraud, a well trained actor down to the very last identifying detail. Maybe even a highly technical robot with lifelike emotion and memory? Mark’s neurological condition is called Capgras and he swears Karen is a copy of his flesh and blood sibling. Despite facing haunting hometown memories and more than six months of Mark not recognizing her, Karen separates from her job and sells her home in order to become his legal guardian. Even world-famous neurologist and best selling author, Gerald Weber, is stumped by Mark’s condition. He comes to study Mark not only to answer Karen’s cry for help, but to stroke a faltering ego. The introduction of Dr. Weber allows author Powers to include such psychological disorders as Fregola Syndrome, Synesthesia, Pleiotropy, Agnosia, Dyscalculia, Tinnitus, Acrophobia, Sundowner Syndrome, Amnesia, Charles Bonnet Syndrome, Aphasia and Klurer-Bucy Syndrome. It gets a little heavy at times. Then there’s too-good-to-be-true Barbara. She arrives on the scene as an aide in the hospital but something seems off with her as well. People cannot help but fall in love with her without really understanding why. If Mark’s medical condition wasn’t enough of a plot, Powers has thrown in a political and ecological battle over a preserve with tourist-drawing cranes which migrate to the area every year. Are the cranes and Mark’s accident connected?

Confessional: I would have liked Dr. Weber’s story to start earlier in the book. He arrives on the Nebraskan scene after Karen invites him to study her brother’s case. From there, he is intertwined with the saga but it would have brought more context to his involvement if the reader had been able to follow his journey sooner than meeting Mark.

Lines to like, “Home was the place you never escaped even in nightmare” (p 8),”Disaster trumped the past and gave her temporary asylum” (p 46), and “She curled into the threat of doing this again” (p 58). I could go on and on and on. Echo Maker has dozens of great one-liners.

Playlist: Brahms, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Schubert…and I am sure there were more. For the first time in my life I lost a library book. I have no idea what happened and it confounds me.

Author fact: I have a total of nine works to read by Richard Powers. I have finished three with six to go.

Book trivia: This should have been a movie. It was almost a Pulitzer winning book.

Nancy said: Pearl called Echo Maker brilliant and thought provoking.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Nebraska: the Big Empty” (p 148).


Unsheltered

Kingsolver, Barbara. Unsheltered. New York: HarperCollins, 2018.

Reason read: I needed a book for the Portland Reading Challenge in the category of “A book you have yet to read by an author you love.” Kingsolver is it.

Contrary to the title of the book, this is the story of one particular shelter – a house called Vineland that sheltered two different families over 140 years apart. A house that stood the test of time until it couldn’t.
Modern day: Willa and Iano’s marriage is unsheltered from harsh realities. Behind Willa’s every thought of Iano is a trace of disappointment. He doesn’t respect her privacy. He is hardly the breadwinning husband even though she is the out-of-work journalist. As a professor with adoring students and a history of infidelity, Willa cannot trust him. Adding to the stress Iano’s very ill father has come to live with them in their condemned (no longer sheltering) house. Then there is Willa’s son. Zeke has his own share of trouble. His live-in girlfriend has committed suicide, leaving him with a newborn son and a pile of debt. Helene was the one with the income while Zeke was a student at the Harvard Business School. Guess who is left to care for the newborn? This is the opening shot across the bow for Unsheltered. Kingsolver delves into so much (so much!) more as the story unfolds. Historical plot follows the life of real-life naturalist Mary Treat and her quest to study the world around her. Charles Darwin has page time and even the nomination of a tyrant for a President of the United Sates gets a mention. I don’t want to say anymore except that Kingsolver is a master of words.

Lines I loved, “The silence has extended beyond her turn to speak” (p 2), “Marriages tended to harden like arteries, and she and Iano were more than thirty years into this one” (p 37), “The dangerous allure of novelty might have sparked this torment, but in the eye of the storm they held on hard to the world they knew” (p 242).

Author fact: I follow Kingsolver on the insty and she takes breathtakingly beautiful pictures.

Book trivia: Despite loving this book it took me a really, really long time to read.

Playlist: Nikki Minaj, Beyonce, Steely Dan, David Bowie, Keith Jarrett, “Tea for the Tillerman,” “Into White,” “Moonshadow,” “Hard Headed Woman,” and “Wild World” by Cat Stevens.