Seife, Charles. Zero: the Biography of a Dangerous Idea. New York: Viking, 2000.
Reason read: another choice relating to New Year’s resolution. Everyone wants to reset the clock. Zero symbolizes just that.
No other number can do so much damage, so says Charles Seife. He tells you this as he is explaining the Golden Ratio, how Winston Churchill is equal to a vegetable, and how you can make your very own wormhole. Mathematics, religion, philosophy, art, engineering, history: they all connect to zero. Mathematics is a more obvious element, but take religion: Shiva, one of the three gods in the Hindu triumvirate, represents nothing because Shiva’s role is to destroy the universe in order to perpetually recreate it. Seife goes deep to illustrate the importance of the zero and how, historically, it created as well as calmed chaos. Zero is historical and humorous, informative and even a little emotional.
Lines I liked, “To add insult to injury, the ultimate Pythagorean symbol of beauty and rationality, was an irrational number” (p 37) and “But the sand reckoner was destined to meet his fate while reckoning the sand” (p 52).
As an aside, does everyone know the music of Josh Ritter? I couldn’t help but think of his song, Lark, when reading Zero because he mentions “Golden ratio, the shell.”
Author fact: Seife has an M.S. in Mathematics from Yale University. Are you surprised?
Book trivia: Zero is the only book I know that starts with the chapter 0 instead of a preface or introduction.
Nancy said: Pearl lures you in and makes you curious about Zero when she says, “[Seife] offers a mathematical proof that Winston Churchill is equal to a carrot” (p 256). Okay, you got me.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Zero: This Will Mean Nothing To You” (p 256).
Orenstein, Peggy. Schoolgirls: Young Women, Self-Esteem, and the Confidence Gap. New York: Anchor, 1995.
Reason read: as part of a mother’s new year’s eve resolution I am reading this in solidarity.
Peggy Orenstein started her Schoolgirls project after reading a report by the American Association of University Women, “Shortchanging girls, Shortchanging America” in her daily newspaper. Inspired, she set out to probe deeper into this cultural chasm and ended up writing Schoolgirls.
Orenstein’s approach to her project was to visit two ethnically polarized middle schools and observe the behaviors of young girls, specifically eighth graders, from all walks of life. She even singled out specific children to learn more about their personal lives. She witnessed girls with declining confidence, girls with conflicting responsibilities: do I stay at home and take care of my younger siblings or do I go to school where I’m not learning much? Do I quit school to get a job to support my family? Orenstein shed light on challenges all girls face no matter their socio-economic backgrounds: self-image and eating disorders, sex, teen pregnancy, and harassment, cliques and bullying, and dipping academic success. One element of young girls’ lives not addressed was the advent of technology: texting, social media platforms, webcams.
Author fact: Schoolgirls has its own webpage here.
Book trivia: The re-issue of Schoolgirls features a new foreword.
Nancy said: Pearl said Orenstein should be read with The Body Project (Bromberg), Reviving Ophelia (Pipher), and Queen Bees & Wannabes (Wiseman) as they are all about “teenage girls’ problems with both society and themselves” (More Book Lust p 227).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Two, or Three, are better Than One” (p 227).
Brumberg, Joan Jacob. The Body Project. New York: Random House, 1997.
Reason read: Mothers have a special New Year’s Resolution. I’m not a mother, but I know one who has made some good promises to the new year. Read in her honor.
The Body Project is centered on female adolescence and body image. Probably the most fascinating aspect to The Body Project is Brumberg’s collection of diaries she used as research for the narrative. She could draw on the experiences of Victorian era girls as if she had interviewed them just yesterday. She is able to compare perceptions throughout the ages and the changing times. There is special attention paid to how mothers relate to their daughters. Take for example, menarche and menstruation. When mothers teach their daughters about the process they talk about how to “take care of it” meaning the bleeding, but rarely do they explain why the blood is happening in the first place. Brumberg cites a distinct disconnect between menstruation and fertility. Mothers even do not fully explain what is physically happening to their daughters’ bodies.
It’s as if Brumberg needs to be that mother figure for young girls. The Body Project has a whole chapter on acne: pimples and blackheads, calling it the plague of youth or a sign of poverty. Not only is the history of the treatment of acne covered, but how marketing took advantage of the plight of teenagers with unclear skin. Eye opening for me was when Brumberg addressed masturbation and the misconception it causes acne. I have to admit, I never heard of that. Wasn’t the theory you would go blind?
Another body project is more well known – the desire to be thin. One girl didn’t want to attend Mount Holyoke for fear of gaining weight. She had heard the food was quite good but her goal was to lose weight, not gain it.
A word of warning: Brumberg focusses mainly on middle class girls and all of her reporting is from mid-nineties statistics. Despite that, it is an interesting read.
As an aside, before I even cracked open the pages of The Body Project I said to myself, I bet you anything Brumberg is going to mention Madonna and within 50 pages, boom! There was Madonna.
Another aha moment, I did not know the Girl Scouts of America was the first group to systematically teach menstruation to young girls.
As another aside, Brumberg discusses the changing age of consent and the need for girls to be “sexy” at younger and younger ages. Kisa and I were watching a video from an emerging all-girl band and wondering how old they were. I predicted some of them hadn’t experienced menarche yet for they didn’t look a day over ten or eleven years old. Their seductive poses were well beyond their ages.
Quote worth quoting, “…A body is a proxy for the self…” (p 128).
Author fact: at the time of publication, Brumberg was a professor at Cornell University teaching Women’s History and Women’s Studies.
Book trivia: This is specific to my copy of The Body Project. It looks as though an animal chewed through a chapter for there are claw marks and several pages have gaping holes.
Nancy said: Pearl said to read Brumberg with Reviving Ophelia (Pipher), Queen Bees and Wannabes (Wiseman), and Schoolgirls (Orenstein) as they all “address teenage girls’ problems with both society and themselves” (More Book Lust p 227).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Two, or Three, are Better Than One” (p 226).
Hesse, Hermann. Siddhartha. Translated by Hilda Rosner. New York: MJF Books, 1951.
Reason read: New Year’s Day always evokes resolution talk. Meditation is big on people’s lists. Read Siddhartha as a resolution for someone out there.
How do I describe Siddhartha? In simple terms I would say it’s one man’s journey to find his identity. In the end he finds peace in listening to a river and hearing his heart. In listening, he learns. In hearing, he loves. There is a great deal that happens in between, of course. The proudest and more profound moment was when Siddhartha recognized the pain he currently experiences as the exact same pain he inflicted on his father so long ago. What goes around comes around, as they say.
Quotes to quote, “Had he ever lost his heart to anyone so completely, had he ever loved anybody so much, so blindly, so painfully, so hopelessly and yet so happily” (p 99), and “It seems to me, that love is the most important thing in the world’ (p 104).
Author fact: Hermann Hesse was a German-born Swiss poet and painter in addition to being a novelist.
Book trivia: This is short enough to read several times over. Do, because it will surprise you every time.
Nancy said: Pearl said :no list of books on Buddhism, however short, would be complete without recommending Hermann Hesse’s deceptively simple novel” (Book Lust p 255-256).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Zen Buddhism and Meditation” (p 256).
Fontenoy, Maud. Across the Savage Sea: The First Woman to Row Across the North Atlantic. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2006.
Reason read: my good friend Frank was born in January and he loved, loved, loved boats and the sea. Read in his memory. Also as a selection for the Portland Public Library 2021 Reading Challenge: An extreme survival story.
Maud Fontenoy was twenty-five years old when she decided to embark on a nearly four month journey across the North Atlantic in 2003. She was officially at sea for 117 days. While she kept in constant contact with family, friends, sponsors, and news agencies, Fontenoy was alone with only what the ocean could offer her for company. She was entertained by dolphins, mesmerized by whales, stymied by fish, and terrorized for a short time by sharks. Occasionally, a tanker would cross her path, as she was squarely in their shipping lane for a good part of the journey. The real threat to her journey, however, was not the sharks, nor the tankers but the weather. Tropical storms would wreak havoc on Fontenoy and her little boat. Despite the fact meteorologists kept her abreast of developing weather patterns, there was little she could do to avoid the high seas and violent winds that came with them. Her strength and fortitude to just survive were astounding.
Confessional: I read this book before I started the Book Lust Challenge. I opted to read it again because I couldn’t remember many details. Plus, it’s a pretty short book so it was easy to add it back on the list. If I ever met Fontenoy in person I would like to ask if anyone ever found her message in a bottle.
Somebody helped me out. There is a moment when Fontenoy was convinced a much larger vessel was bearing down on her. She describes how her radar detector went off, beeping like crazy. However, she later shares that her detector was defective and said it “detected no vessels during the crossing.” So, what was the beeping? Does that mean the droning of the vessel’s engine and the smell of exhaust was all in her imagination? Was there a near miss with another vessel or not?
Quote to quote, “I wondered why the god of the sea had chosen to keep me in the palm of his hand” (p 95).
Author fact: Fontenoy has written two books about sailing. Both are on my Challenge list.
Book trivia: there is a small section of photographs for which I am grateful. I had a hard time picturing Fontenoy’s craft, Pilot.
Nancy said: Pearl said Across the Savage Sea is “well worth your reading time.” I completely agree. So much so that I’m reading it again for the Challenge. I said that already.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Row, Row, Row your Boat” (p 191).
Beutner, Katharine. Alcestis. New York: SoHo, 2010.
Reason read: Female Dominion Day in parts of Greece is celebrated on January 8th. The premise is the women get to leave their husbands at home with the housework and kids while they celebrate being matriarchs.
Beutner takes Greek mythology and turns it on its head. It is no small feat to retool a myth and turn Euripides’s male-centered drama into a lesbian love story. This is the story of Alcestis, the woman who sacrificed her own life to save her husband’s. Her outward loyalty knows no limits, beginning with faking the end of her virginity on her wedding night when, like some men with a secret lover, Admetus can’t perform. But internally, Alcestis is no ordinary woman. She is a mortal with many complex personalities: as a dutiful daughter, a sacrificing wife, a ever-loving sister, a sheltered princess, and the passionate lover of a goddess.
Once Alcestis volunteers her life and she is in the underworld, she observes a place in a state of constantly shimmering and shifting allusion. It is difficult, but Alcestis begins a three-day search for her beloved sister who died at ten years old. Every time she inquires about Hippothoe she is met with strange riddles in place of replies as if to protect her from an unknown horror. No one wants to clearly say what has become of Hippothoe. Alcestis perseveres boldly for she is not afraid of the underworld, nor the gods who rule there. She will not take no for an answer. In the meantime, she says yes when she is seduced by, and ultimately falls in love with, Persephone. Alcestis seems to grow larger than life as her sexuality becomes more fluid and not as easily defined. When she is “rescued” and brought back to the living Alcestis is forever changed.
Line that stuck with me, “My mind stuttered and stuck” (p 189).
Author fact: Beutner earned her BA in classical studies from Smith College in 2003.
Book trivia: Alcestis was nominated and a finalist for a LAMBDA award in 2011.
Nancy said: Pearl called Alcestis a good novel.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Just So Much Greek To Me” (p 120).
Evanovich, Janet. One for the Money. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2003.
Reason read: I read somewhere that January is Female Mystery Month.
Suspend most of your beliefs in regards to reality and you will enjoy Stephanie Plum and her naïve and bumbling beginning as an amateur bounty hunter. After her cousin Vinnie temporarily loses an agent he hires down and out Plum to take his place. She has absolutely no experience but she’s desperate. She’s already hocked a few appliances to keep the rent going and her car has just been repossessed. Her first case worth $10,000? Who does she need to bring in, you may ask? Her old childhood nemesis, Joe Morelli. They have history dating back to a high school indiscretion that took place behind a case of cannoli and then was gossiped all over town. Plum is still embarrassed all these years later. Now Morelli’s a cop accused of murder and on the run. Self defense, he claims. Armed with pepper spray and an unloaded gun she doesn’t really know how to use, Stephanie Plum sets out to capture Morelli by stealing his car and stalking him across Trenton, New Jersey. He’s not that hard to find. She keeps running into Morelli all over town. Problem is, every time she tries to apprehend him, he gets her all hot and bothered instead.
Speaking of being bothered, here’s where I really get annoyed. Stephanie is viciously attacked by a sexual deviant boxer named Ramirez. This madman comes close to raping her and yet later, Joe is able to climb into her apartment through a window. As someone who was nearly a rape victim, why would she leave a window open? That detail doesn’t seem to be as important as collaring Morelli and getting her ten grand. Will Stephanie keep her cool and get her man?
Quote to make me cringe, “Truth is, I wasn’t used to being a minority, and I felt like a black man looking up a white woman’s skirts in a WASP suburb of Birmingham” (p 108). Ouch. she also doesn’t like handicapped old people who take all the best parking spots. Double ouch.
Lines I actually liked, “Doesn’t matter whether it’s cats or coleslaw, death is not attractive” (p 124) and “Range etiquette was never to point the gun at the guy standing next to you” (p 150). Good point.
Author fact: to date Evanovitch has written twenty-six Stephanie Plum mysteries. I am reading ten of them.
Book trivia: One for the Money is the first book in Evanovich’s series starring Stephanie Plum.
Nancy said: Pearl doesn’t think Evanovich’s books should be in the category of mysteries.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Ms. Mystery” (p 169).
Snicket, Lemony. A Series of Unfortunate Events #7: Vile Village. New York: Harper Collins, 2001.
Reason read: to finish the series started in October in honor of Halloween.
Once again, right off the bat, Snicket asks you to go read someone else’s book. He says, “And if you insist on reading this book instead of something more cheerful, you will most certainly find yourself moaning in despair instead of wriggling in delight, so if you have any sense at all you will put this book down and pick up another one” (p 6). With an introduction like that, how could you not keep reading Snicket’s book? Very clever. By now you know the format: Snicket is still offering meanings for words and phrases. The three orphaned Bauldelaire children are looking for a place to call home. Violet is a teenager and still very much interested in inventions. Klaus is on the cusp of turning thirteen and still loves reading. Sunny is still an infant with four teeth who still can’t speak in full sentences, but she loves to bite things. They have escaped (again) from Count Olaf and his band of wicked accomplices. Banker and Bauldelaire family friend, Mr. Poe, is still in charge of sending the Baudelaire orphans to their next town of tragedy. This time it’s V.F.D. (“Village of Fowl Devotees”), a mysterious town covered in crows. The problem is, no one in the town wants to be responsible for the children. As the name suggests, the community is devoted to their murder of crows. At a Council of the Elders, a timid and loner handyman who is too skittish to speak up at Council meetings, is order to become the children’s guardian. All day long they must do chores for the community and always be respectful of the crows, crows, and more crows. By day, thousands of them hang around in town but by night they roost in the Nevermore tree on the outskirts of town, conveniently right by the handyman’s house.
As an aside, I skipped from Book 3 to 7. By not reading books 4-6 I missed out on Violet working at the Lucky Smells Lumbermill, Klaus being enrolled at Prufrock Preparatory School, and all three children living with a couple named Jerome and Esme Squalor. At the end of book 6 Duncan and Isadora, two of three triplets are kidnapped. In Vile Village it is up to Klaus, Violet, and Sunny to rescue them.
Additionally, what is pretty amazing about the series of unfortunate events the Baudelaire orphans experienced thus far is that they all happened in less than a year’s time. The fire that killed their parents, the escape from Count Olaf’s house, the escape from Uncle Monty’s house, the escape from Aunt Josephine’s cliff side mansion, the time in the Finite Forest, or at 667 Dark Avenue. Books 1-7 take place in less than 365 days.
Author fact: So far I have told you Lemony was a pen name, his birth month is February, and that I was born in the same month. My last author fact is that Lemony is married to illustrator Lisa Brown.
Book trivia: Vile Village is the seventh book in the series and the last one I am reading for the Challenge.
Nancy said: Pearl called the entire series “wonderful.”
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Not Just for Kids: Fantasies for Grown-ups” (p 174).
Hoffman, Alice. White Horses. Berkley Books: New York, 1982.
Reason read: Judging a book by its cover, I chose White Horses to read in honor of when the television show “All Creatures Great and Small” first aired. I assumed there was at least one horse in the book when I scheduled it for January.
Family: Dina (mother), Harry aka King (father), Rueben (son), Teresa (daughter), and Silver (favorite son). Here’s what you need to know about these people: Every character is deeply flowed. Dina is tragic. King is a jerk. Rueben is nonexistent. Teresa is hopeless. Silver is a conundrum. Everyone is left wanting in one way or another. This is a book with an overarching theme of obsession and I spent most of the time either feeling sorry for the entire family or wondering what the hell was going on with them. Well written without a doubt, but with a stranger-than-strange plot. Dina is obsessed with Arias. These fairytale dark-haired, dark-eyed cowboys supposedly swoop in on mythical white horses to save the day. Dina truly believes that at any second an Aria will arrive outside her kitchen window and steal her away. She stares hungrily at her own son as Silver has the hair, the eyes, and he always wears a white shirt that could substitute nicely for the prerequisite white horse. The favorite son takes on a whole new level of importance when Teresa falls in love with him. What is so special about Silver that makes everyone fawn over him, despite the fact he turned out to be a petty thief, drug dealer, and betraying snitch? Honestly, it’s Hoffman’s control over her storytelling that kept me hanging on to her every word. There is a delicate subtlety to her intentions that was just beautiful.
Confessional: I had to sit with this book for awhile. I just didn’t know how I felt about any of it.
Quotes I liked, “Dina was certain that every jump in temperature could force arguments to rise from the dust, ghosts would appear in the midday haze” (p 3), and “Even after she had climbed onto the raised platform of the cafe, she still wasn’t certain that the bones in the graveyard hadn’t followed her into the heart of the city” (p 37).
Author fact: I have five different Hoffman books on my challenge list. I have finished three of them (including White Horses).
Book trivia: I could see this as an adaptation for the big screen.
Nancy said: Pearl said “It’s not too much of an overstatement to say that much popular fiction of late has as its text or subtext a family in trouble” (Book Lust p 82).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust and only mentioned in the chapter called “Families in Trouble” (p 82), although Pearl could have included it in the first chapter, “A…is for Alice (p 1) because there she lists other Hoffman books.