With Bold Knife and Fork

Fisher, M.F.K. With Bold Knife and Fork. G.P. Putnam and sons, 1968.

Reason read: March is Food Month.

Fisher is one of the best known and well loved food writers of the last century. When I told someone I was reading With Bold Knife and Fork her immediate reaction was a one word exclamation, “love!” And speaking of love, I loved, loved, loved some of the snarky phrases Fisher used. Here are a few, “…floating dunghill of lassitude, corruption, dirt, and whatever evil I have ever recognized as such” (p 171), “Stuffed with prejudices” (p 287) and “culinary monkey” (p 291). But, back to the “plot” of With Bold Knife and Fork. Fisher will walk you down a myriad of memory lanes with food and how it related to her childhood or the social norms of the day. It was amusing to think of a very young M.F.K. Fisher as a child hearing the siren’s song and feeling the pull towards decadent food. There is a definite humor to her storytelling. I had to laugh when she talked about a pressure cooker and how “it should never be used by a person taking tranquilizers or alcohol for his own reasons, or one with a fever or the deep blues” (p 164). There is also a didactic nature to Fisher. I appreciated learning the difference between preserves, conserves, jellies, jams, honeys, and marmalades.
As an aside, what is so special about offal? Everything But The Squeal and With Bold Knife and Fork both offer pretty descriptive passages on the “delicacy.” Can is ask? The phrase, “tuck into.” Is that the act of starting to eat or the actual consumption of food?
Last off-topic observation: the quote reminded me of an episode of This Is Us, “We are so conditioned to this threat of the Secret Ingredient, and this acceptance of trickery, that even honesty has become suspect when we are brash enough to ask for recipes” (p 292).

Author fact: Fisher is a self-professed soy addict.

Book trivia: More memoir than cookbook, With Bold Knife and Fork offers 140 interesting recipes.

Favorite quotes, “Rice can be cooked in two basic ways, right and wrong” (p 79). Not helpful. Not helpful at all. Another quote, “There is a mistaken idea, ancient but still with us, that an overdose of anything from fornication to hot chocolate will teach restraint by the very results of its abuse” (p 99). One last one, “I like tomatoes but can skip them when I know I should for other people’s dietary or emotional reasons” (p 157), and last one “It is hot as the hinges of hell’s front door…” (p 302). the devil in me wanted to ask what about hell’s back door?

Playlist: “Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear” and “W.S. gilbert’s “Patience.”

Nancy said: Pearl said writing about food is how Fisher expressed her love.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Food for Thought” (p 91).


King of the Corner

Estleman, Loren D. King of the Corner. Bantam, 1992.

Reason read: to finished the series started in January in honor of Michigan becoming a state.

King of the Corner opens with Kevin “Doc” Miller being released from prison. Doc did seven years time for hosting a party where an underage girl died of a cocaine overdose. He didn’t bring the drugs and he certainly didn’t bring the girl, but he went down for it all nonetheless. It’s the 1990s and Big Auto has been swallowed up by Big Crime. After seven years behind bars, Doc needs a job but he still loves baseball. Somehow he finds himself taking over someone else’s job as a cabbie. Because of his height and overall size one fare. Maynard Ance, convinces him to assist with a bond pick up. And that’s where the trouble begins. Like being sucked down a drain, Doc finds himself pulled into bad company. His situation goes from bad to worse when he ends up on the scene of a murder, s direct violation of his parole. To paint a further picture, if you are familiar with other other “Detroit” books in Estleman’s series, you’ll know why the fact Patsy Orr’s accountant now works for Maynard Ance is trouble. Old ghosts never die.
Pay close attention to what characters say because dialogue drives the action.

Line I liked, “He wondered if the daily routine would just fade away on its own or if he would have to change it himself.” I was reminded of Red from “Shawshank Redemption” and he was not able to take a piss without first asking permission.

Book trivia: King of the Corner was the third and final installment in the Detroit series. Interestingly enough, I am reading a total of seven for the Challenge.

Play list: “Okie From Muskogee,” “White Christmas,” Waylon Jennings, M.C. Hammer, Otis Redding, Nat King Cole, Billie Holliday, Michael Jackson, Lou Rawls, Stevie Wonder, Jimi Hendrix, Martha and the Vandellas, Elvis, and Anita Baker’s “Watch Your Step,”

Nancy said: Pearl called the whole series of “Detroit” novels “sweeping” and “gritty.”

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Big Ten Country: The Literary Midwest (Michigan)” (p 26).


Eat Pray Love

Gilbert, Elizabeth. Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. Viking, 2006.

Reason read: March is Women’s History Month. Celebrating Gilbert this time.

Does everyone picture Julia Roberts when they hear the words eat, love and pray in that order? I know I do. I haven’t even seen the movie and yet that is exactly what goes through my head. Admittedly, before I even started reading the book I had a preconceived notion of what the storyline would be: a woman of means takes a year off from her crash-and-burn American life to find herself in the beyond beautiful countries of Italy, India and Indonesia. She spends four months in Italy eating her way through the wine-soaked landscape. She spends another four months in India meditating and losing the weight she gained in pasta. After paying a bribe, she spends the last four months of her year away on the Indonesian island of Bali being courted by the culture and in the end, a man. A year of seemingly easy leisure produced Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. But. But! But, my cynicism ends there. Gilbert is a skilled storyteller. Even if my synopsis is pretty accurate, Eat, Pray, Love is a highly entertaining read. I enjoyed every second of it.

Author fact: I have two other Gilbert books on my challenge list: Stern Men and The Last American Man.

Book trivia: Confessional – I have been calling this book Eat, Love, Pray for months now. I can’t even get the title right.

Best line ever, “…showing you the way, scaring off thieves and demons, brining you confidence and protection” (p 148).

Playlist: Count Basie, Eagles, Neil Young, Ray Charles, Stevie Nicks, Stevie Wonder, and Kenny Roger’s “Coward of the Country,”

Nancy said: Pearl said Gilbert became famous for writing Eat Pray Love.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter “The Maine Chance” (p 136). As an aside, Eat, Pray Love shouldn’t in this chapter. It has nothing to do with the state of Maine.


Man in the Box

Dunn, Mary Lois. The Man in the Box: a Story From Vietnam. McGraw Hill, 1968.

Reason read: I read somewhere that March 8th is Hug a G.I. Day. I read this in honor of the thousands of men kept in little boxes from every war.

If you read this book with a child’s intent, it is a story about a young boy who knows the worth of a human life and tries with heroic measures to save it. If you read this book with an adult’s cynicism, it is a book that glorifies American soldiers in the Vietnam War and completely misses the point of the Vietnamese culture. My advice is to read it as Mary Lois Dunn intended: as a story for children. Chau Li witnesses the horrible torture of an American soldier kept cramped prisoner in a small cane box. His own father suffered in same-such box but did not survive the brutality. Determined to somehow save the American, Chau Li risks everything to squirrel “Dah Vid” away in a cave until together they can safely rejoin the Green Barets hidden somewhere in the deep Vietnamese jungle. As they hide out from the Viet Cong Chau Li and Dah Vid grow close, form a friendship and make unrealistic promises. Spoiler alert: the end is ambiguous which is surprising for a book meant for children.

Author fact: Mary Lois Dunn was a librarian.

Book trivia: The Man in the Box won the Oklahoma Sequoyah Children’s Book Award in 1968.

Nancy said: Pearl called The Man in the Box “harrowing and sad” and although it is long out of print, it is “definitely worth tracking down” (Book Lust p 115).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Historical Fiction For Kids Of All Ages” (p 115).


Heaven and Earth

Roberts, Nora. Heaven and Earth. Jove Books, 2001.

Reason read: to continue the series started in honor of love (February 14th). All you need is love, love, love. Right?

In the Three Sisters Island trilogy, the plot of Heaven and Earth turns away from Nell and directs its focus onto Sheriff’s Deputy, Ripley Karen Todd. Before I go any further with the plot, I have to say there is always a popular formula to love and romance in bodice rippers: stubborn character refuses to accept second character’s heartthrob’s advances. However, handsome or beautiful second character is persistent. Very persistent with a charming veneer. Heaven and Earth is no different. Ripley is the stubborn one and newly arrived MacAllister Booke is persistent and charming. Be warned ladies, he also has a strong jaw. The problem lies in the fact MacAllister’s life work is researching people of the strange ilk: shaman, vampire, ghost, brujo, necromancer, witch, lycanthrope, alien, psychic, and neo-druid all interest him. Ripley doesn’t want to be researched. She doesn’t even like being associated with weird. There were more than a few times I resisted the urge to roll my eyes after reading lines like this, “She caught the unmistakable scent of Nell’s beef-and-barley soup and quickly decided it was that, and that alone, that was making her mouth water” (p 50). Yes, the hunky and irresistible MacAllister Booke was in Ripley’s presence.
Having said all that, I appreciated the consistency from one novel to the next. Ripley is still locked in a battle of wills with Mia Devlin. Ripley still resents the fact that she, at heart, is a witch. She’ll need to come to terms with this when Nell’s ex-husband convinces a shady reporter to pay the residents of Three Sisters Island a visit. It takes an ominous turn from there.
A word of obvious warning: Heaven and Earth is a little dated. A $20 spot as a bribe wouldn’t get you boo. These days a Benjamin is a good place to start.

As an aside, what brother calls his sister, “baby”? It kind of made my skin crawl.

Quotes to quote (aside from the eye-roll inducing ones), “He always liked the sound of the sea, especially at night when it seemed to fill the world” (p 37). Amen to that. Another one I wish could have been reworked, “A headache blasted his temples” (p 250).

Author fact: Did you know there is a Romance Writers Hall of Fame and Roberts was the first one to be inducted?

Book trivia: Heaven and Earth is the second installment of the trilogy.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Heaven and Earth except to list it out of chronological order.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romance Novels: Our Love is Here to Stay” (p 203).


Commitments

Doyle, Roddy. The Commitments. Vintage Contemporaries, 1989.

Reason read: The Commitments takes place in Dublin, Ireland and St. Patrick’s Day is in March. Plus, I needed a book about music for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.

Having never seen the movie of the same name, I had no idea what to expect from the book. Much the same way “The Full Monty” made me laugh out loud, so did The Commitments. It’s a fun read. A lively group of young unemployed men and women want to be a band. They want to be famous and rake in the money, but they don’t know what it takes. When they hire a manager the first thing he tells them is that they will be a soul band. The then instructs them to stretch themselves to find out what “soul” means to them: the streets? The act of getting outside one’s self? What they learn is that relationships are hard and people are complicated. Doyle takes us through the first installment of the Barrytown trilogy with humor and grit.

Quote to quote, “For a few minutes the Commitments broke up” (p 64). Aint love grand?

Author fact: Doyle has won the Booker Prize.

Book trivia: Despite The Commitments being more of a novella at 154 pages, it was made into a movie in 1991.

Playlist (and there is a lot): Animal (from the Muppets), Al Green, BB King, Big Joe Turner, the Byrds, Bruce Springsteen, Berry Gordy, BP Fallon, Blood Sweat and Tears, the Beatles, Booker T and the MGs, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Charlie Parker, the Crystals, Depeche Mode, Diana Ross, Dolly Parton, Eddie Floyd, Eddie and the Red Hots, Echo and the Bunnymen, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Frank Sinatra, the Four Tops, George Michael, Gladys Knight, George Jones, Herbie Hancock, Human League, Isaac Hayes, John Coltrane, Joey Irish Fagan, Jackie Wilson, Jethro Tull, Joe Rex, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Led Zeppelin, Little Richard, Lamont Dozier, the Monkees, Madness, Madonna, Martha Reeves, Marvin Gaye, Microdisney, Martha and the Vandellas, Otis Redding, Phil Lynott, Peter Tosh, Percy Sledge, the Ronettes, Roxy Music, Rolling Stones, the Shangra-Las, Simple Minds, Smokey Robinson, the Supremes, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Steve Cropper, Sam Cooke, the Strangles, Stevie Wonder, Screaming Blue Messiahs, Scraping Foetus Off the Wheel, the Specials, Tina Turner, U2, Wilson Pickett, and Yoko Ono.
Songs: “Anything Goes,” “Bells of Rhymney,” “Chain Gang,” “Dancing in the Streets,” “Get On Up,” “Knock on Wood,” “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” “I Thank You,” “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better,” “Louise,” “The Lord is My Shepard,” “Masters and Servants,” “My Girl,” “Morning Has Broken,” “Moon River,” “Night Train,” “Out of Sight,” “Papa Got a Brand New Bag,” “Relax,” “Reach Out (I’ll Be There),” “Sex Machine,” “Stop in the Name of Love,” “Stoned Love,” “Tracks of My Tears,” “When a Man Loves a Woman,” “Walking in the Rain,” and “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted.”

Nancy said: Pearl mentioned the “Barrytown Trilogy” as an example of humorous Irish fiction even though she feels on the whole, fiction coming out of Ireland is sad.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Irish Fiction” (p 125).


Namaste the Hard Way

Brown-Warsham, Sasha. Namaste the Hard Way: a Daughter’s Journey to Find Her Mother on the Yoga Mat. Health Communications, 2018.

Reason read: I was supposed to receive Namaste the Hard Way back in 2018 as part of the Early Review program for LibraryThing. The book never arrived, but the entry stayed on my spreadsheet. I had this urge to clean up unfinished entries.

In a nutshell, Namaste the Hard Way is a very candid look at what it means to lose your parent at a young age and never fully recover from the trauma. Brown-Warsham admits that she finds herself closest to her mother’s spirit when she is practicing yoga. But. But, it is more than that. When Brown-Warsham becomes a mother she finds a different connection to her mother. Her marriage is a means to connect with her mother. Any familiar path Brown-Warsham takes is one that leads her to memories of her mother. Her vulnerability and honesty was touching. Confessional: the entire time I was reading Namaste the Hard Way I was filled with a sense of envy. Brown-Warsham lost her mother to cancer at a young age and yet she has something tangible to bring her mother’s memory into sharp focus: yoga. I lost my father halfway through my twenty-third year. The smell of motor oil and scorched metal from arc welding can bring back memories my father, but unless I hang out all day in a repair shop, I can’t evoke the nostalgia as easily as Brown-Warsham can. All she has to do is practice yoga.

It was surreal to read about Kripalu, it being just down the road from me and, and! And. I know people who used to work there.

Lines I liked, “Running is not for sissies” (p 149). When Sasha started talking about running I practically stood up and cheered. I am not a practicing yogi (aside from what is recommended after a super hard run), but when she talked abut shedding blood at the chaffing points of her sports bra I said a silent “yes!” in agreement. I concur! Best line about running, “I’ve given up the running I so loved because I’d never forgive myself if the baby were jostled and had shaken baby syndrome or if he or she fell out of the warm, safe sac into my underpants because I attempted to run seven miles” (p 198).

Playlist: “Eye of the Tiger,” “Kiss,” “Thriller,” “You Light Up My Life” by Debbie Boone, “Like a Virgin” by Madonna, James Taylor, and the “Wiffenpoof” Yale Song.


Jam Today

Davies, Tod. Jam Today: a Diary of Cooking with What You’ve Got. Exterminating Angel Press, 2009.

Reason read: A bunch of years ago (in 2009) I was supposed to receive this book in exchange for an honest review. It never arrived. I decided to take matters into my own hands to clean up “unfinished” business.

Part cookbook, part memoir Jam Today is, dare I say, whimsical. Davies will tell you her favorite meals and she’ll walk you through how to make them. She is not precise in measurements, nor in direction. She doesn’t have to have precision in either because this isn’t your standard Julia Childs how-to in haute cuisine. While the subtitle of Jam Today is misleading it should be taken as a lighthearted romp through the joys of planning, cooking, and eating a flavorful meal. Instead of A Diary of Cooking with What You’ve Got her subtitle should have read “a diary of cooking with what I’ve got.” How many of us have salt cod, champagne, or cremini mushrooms lounging around in the refrigerator? Smoked salmon hiding in the pantry? I’m enough of a culinary snob to expect people who cook to have some kind of mortar and pestle on their counters, but a suribachi mortar and pestle? On the whole, Jam Today is fun. Seriously, how can you go wrong when the final instruction of a recipe is to not forget to light the candles?

Lines I liked, “It’ll stay tame if you show it who’s boss ion a cheerful way” (p 154).

Author fact: Davies most always includes a salad and wine with her recipes.

Book trivia: The title of Davies’s book comes from The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland when the Mock Turtle sings for Alice about “jam today.”


Kafka on the Shore

Murakami, Haruki. Kafka on the Shore. Translated by Philip Gabriel. Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.

Reason read: I needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge in the category of a book whose author is someone I identify with. Murakami is a runner. I’d like to think I am, too.

Kafka on the Shore is a mystery. Exactly who is Kafka Tamura? In the beginning of the story all we know is that Kafka isn’t this boy’s real name and he is a teenage runaway. Why he left his father is a mystery. All we know is that life with dad was terrible. Somewhere out there is an adopted sister (six years older) and a mother; both who have been missing for years. Is there a connection? Why did his mother disappear with the adopted daughter and not take her natural born son? Who is Crow? An imaginary friend who lives in an alternate metaphysical reality?
Nakata is an aging simpleton. His backstory is even more of a mystery. As a child he was involved in the Rice Bowl Hill Incident of 1944. A group of school children were allegedly hypnotized after seeing a silver duralumin object glint in the sky. Most of the children woke up soon after the incident but Nakata stayed in a coma. As an adult, Nakata finds cats with master skills and is able to predict weird phenomena like fish and leeches falling from the sky. Word of warning: Nakata gets involved with a strange character. His scene with the cats is highly disturbing to an animal lover. but then again, I am the kind of person who needs to change the channel because I can’t bear those uber-long ASPCA commercials with the sad music.
At some point these two characters come together metaphorically, but their journey to this point is like a winding labyrinth full of unusual characters like Johnnie Walker and Colonel Sanders and a stone Nakata must talk to. Kafka on the Shore will take you through a modern Oedipus Rex tragedy.

As an aside, I liked the characters of Oshima and Hoshino. Oshima drives Kafka two and a half hours over the mountains to a place to stay saying, “it’s a straight shot, it’s still light out, and he has a full tank of gas.” Only, in reality it is a five hour drive, it won’t be light out when he gets home and that tank of gas will be long gone. Hoshino goes to remarkable lengths to help Nakata with his mysterious quest, even quitting his trucking job to be a chauffeur. That is the true definition of a selfless friend.

Lines I liked, “He wasn’t sure why, but striped brown cats were the hardest to get on the same page with” (p 71), and “Why do hundred of thousands even millions of people group together and try to annihilate each other?” (p 359).

Author fact: I have three other of Murakami’s books on my Challenge list: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, and A Wild Sheep Chase but there are plenty more out there.

Setlist: Cream’s “Crossroads,” Duke Ellington, Beethoven’s “Ghost,”, Beatles’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” , Berlioz, Beach Boys, Hayden, Led Zeppelin, Liszt, Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” and “Sexy Motherfucker,” Radiohead’s “Kid A,” Rolling Stones, Rubinstein, Heifetz and Feuermann Trio, Schumann, Simon and Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder, Wagner, Schubert’s Sonata in D Minor, Wagner, “Si, Mi Chiamano Mimi,” Mozart’s “Posthorn Serenade,” “Edelweiss,” and “As Time Goes By.”

Nancy said: Pearl said the plots to Murakami’s novels are not easy.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “Japanese Journeys” (p 116).


Invisible Man

Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. Vintage, 1995.

Reason read: February is National Black History Month.

Invisible Man’s nameless southern protagonist forces the reader to run the gamut of emotions: by turns we are frightened, touched, shocked, amused, even pitying and hopeful. When we first meet him, he lives on the hem of society in an unused part of the basement of a building for whites. He steals shelter and electricity like a boogeyman. He is truly invisible. There comes a point in time when he tries to reach the light by going to college only to be expelled after being accused of offending a white man. Invisible again. Through various trials and tribulations this nameless young man finally makes it to New York where he is confronted with the reality of his race. His lack of identity allows him to be mistaken for someone else. As he becomes more and more invisible, the more and more I wanted him to rage against it. The problem is, when you are a young black man trying to escape the white man’s thumb in the 1940s, rage is the last emotion you are allowed to express. Every endeavor leads him closer to destruction. Like a horror movie, I wanted to read Invisible Man with one eye closed against all the gross misunderstandings prejudice and racism can bring.

Quote to quote, “The light is the truth, and truth is the light” (p 7).

Author fact: Ellison was a literary scholar and essayist in addition to a novelist.

Book trivia: Modern Library called Invisible Man one of the top 100 novels of all time. Others have used words like monumental and epic to describe it. It won a National Book Award in 1953.

Playlist: Louis Armstrong’s “What Did I Do to Be So Black and Blue?” Dvorak’s New World Symphony, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Old Man river,”

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Invisible Man except to include it in a list of one hundred good reads.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade: 1950s” (p 177).


On Death and Dying

Kubler-Ross, Elisabeth. On Death and Dying. Scribner Classics, 1969.

Reason read: February is Psychology month. Also, I needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge in the category of a book published in the year I was born. There you go.

How do you look someone in the eye and tell them they are dying? Sure, every single one of us is dying by increments every single day. Some of us will die tomorrow, without warning. No fanfare. But, how do you tell someone they will die in a month? In a week? Days? On Death and Dying is exactly that, a chance to talk to terminally ill patients; to have a candid talk about what it means to moving towards death sooner rather than later. Kubler-Ross and her students interviewed over 200 patients towards this end. I think it is safe to safe we know what emerged from this seminal work:
Stage One: Denial and Isolation
Stage Two: Anger – the “Why Me?” stage.
Stage Three: Bargaining – not a lot to say about this stage except to say it is very childlike in believing you can strike a deal with a higher power to avoid death.
Stage Four: Depression (the stage I think I would live within the longest).
Stage Five: Acceptance. This is the most difficult of all the stages to reach. Even after achieving acceptance, it is easy for the patient to revert back to an earlier stage such as anger or denial. Stage five is also difficult for the patient’s loved ones. How many families see a patient’s acceptance as resignation or a loss of will to live? One must remember there are defense mechanisms as well as coping mechanisms at play.
My biggest takeaway from reading On Death and Dying is how the more training and experience a physician had, the less ready he or she was to become involved in Kubler-Ross’s interviews. It is as if they lost the ability to see the patient as a human with a right to know their terminal future. We need to bring compassion back at every level of care.

As an aside, my husband could rattle off the five stages of grief as if he had sat in a Psychology class yesterday. He explained the anacronym I had never heard before, DABDA.

Quote to quote, “If a patient is allowed to terminate his life in the familiar and beloved environment, it requires less adjustment for him” (p 48).
Favorite quote, “Those who have the strength and the love to sit with the dying patient in the silence that goes beyond words will know that this moment is neither frightening nor painful, but a peaceful cessation of the functioning of the body” (p 276).

Author fact: Kubler-Ross died in 2004. As an aside, I cannot help but wonder what Dr. Kubler-Ross would have thought about Covid.

Book trivia: On Death and Dying has been translated into twenty-seven languages.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about On Death and Dying except to explain how the book was constructed.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 100s” (p 63).


Pasta Mike

Cotto, Andrew. Pasta Mike: a novella about friendship and loss. Black Rose Writing, 2021.

Reason read: as part of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing, I was chosen to review this book.

As soon as I saw the mention of Talk Space in Cotto’s book, I knew this would be a hard read. While Pasta Mike is supposed to be fictional it reads as one hundred percent reality. The first person narrative makes the reader feel as though Cotto himself is sitting down and talking, talking, talking about his best friend, Mike. Like a one man play or a nonstop monologue, it read so real that I refused to believe any of it was imagination. Grief is a hard mountain to climb and Cotto does not shy away from the struggle or the damage that struggle can do. The writing flows easily and fast and, in my opinion, Pasta Mike was over too soon. Cotto could have filled one hundred more pages with memories of Mike.

Playlist: Frank Sinatra


Hope is the Thing with Feathers

Cokinos, Christopher. Hope is the Thing with Feathers: a Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds. Jeremy A. Tarcher/Putnam, 2000.

Reason read: February is Feed the Birds Month. I don’t know why. Maybe because it’s the coldest part of winter?

Cokinos spent ten years researching the life and subsequent extinction of six birds: Passenger Pigeon, Carolina Parakeet, Labrador Duck, Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, Heath Hen, and the Great Auk.
I find it terribly sad that no one knows the exact date of the demise of the Carolina Parakeet, but then again that’s probably true of many extinct species. Right? How do we really know when we have seen the very last whatever? Here are details from Hope is the Thing with Feathers that will stick with me for a very long time: the Heath Hen has been compared to the Greater Prairie Chicken for their myriad of similarities. Their mating sounds are practical identical. Is that why no one took the extinction of the Heath Hen seriously? Were they so abundant they fell victim to overhunting; were they that easy to massacre? Is that what happened to the Passenger Pigeon? The cruelty inflicted on these birds was difficult to read. Cokinos gets into the question of cloning. Can you clone a species which has gone completely extinct? Can we have a Jurassic Park moment on a less dangerous scale?
Besides hunting, another factor wreaking havoc on bird populations was deforestation. Singer Sewing Machine purchased the nesting grounds of Lord God birds. Then they sold the rights to logging companies who cleared the land, destroying everything in its path. This happened over and over again.

Quotes to quote: “He also played sad songs on his flute” (p 62), “…thus the titanic vanishing of the Passenger Pigeon concluded, finally, on the bottom of a cage in the middle of a city busy with commerce and worry about war” (p 267), and “We ought not underestimate the elegance of individual decisions coupled with communal actions – a bird seen, a refuge protected, a vote changed – especially as they accumulate one by one, the way barbs and barbules of a feather hold together” (p 334).

Author fact: Cokinos is an excellent researcher. The amount of time and effort that went into verifying the shooting of the past Passenger Pigeon was astounding.

Book trivia: the title of the book comes from the title of my favorite Emily Dickinson poem.

Playlist: Steve Lawrence, “Maple Leaf Rag,” and the sound of birds singing.

Nancy said: Pearl explains the plot of Hope is the Thing with Feathers.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Bird Brains” (p 40).


Motown

Estleman, Loren D. Motown. Bantam Books, 1991.

Reason read: to continue the Detroit series started in honor of January being the month Michigan became a state.

It’s 1966, thirty years later and a whole generation after Whiskey River. The times, they certainly are different. The Supreme Court now demands a search warrant to tap phones. Seatbelts are a thing. Dean Martin has a talk show. The American Steelhaulers Association is a very powerful labor union. What will they think of next? In the midst of all this, protagonist and ex-cop Rick Amery is down on his luck. Only 37 years old and he doesn’t have a stable place to live or a decent paying job. So when Big Auto comes calling to hire him to go undercover, it’s an easy decision. Plus, he loves, loves, loves cars. He loves cars. Did I mention he loves cars? His job is to spy on a safety organization. A guy named Porter is a big advocate of anything that will make the consumer stay a little safer in an automobile. He’s out to expose Big Auto’s shortcuts because they have started cutting back on safety to beef up horsepower, like making smaller brake drums to make room for a bigger engine.
Old characters from Whiskey River like Joey Machine are legends in Motown. Constantine “Connie” Minor is back as a lawn mower salesman having quit the journalism business twenty years before.
Like Whiskey River Estleman pays tribute to the auto and clothing fashions of the time: Sting Ray Corvettes, Volvo, Ramblers, Studebakers, Chevy Impala, Mercedes, VW Beetle, Corvair, Cobra, Camaro Z28, Excaliburs, denim, gaberdine, wool, mother of pearl, suede, silk, loafers, leather, wingtips and wide lapels.
True to the times, Estleman does not shy away from racism and often using language that wouldn’t be politically correct for this day and age: “Nigger killings off Twelfth Street aren’t exactly Commissioner’s priority” (p 48). Hard words to read, but a reality of the 1960s.

As an aside, I agree with Mike Gallente about boxed pasta when he explains, “Directions say 8-10 minutes but that’s at least 2 minutes too long” (p 209).

Lines I liked, “Napoleon was on Elba for only ten months, and he didn’t have TWA” (p 141), “Why don’t you just drop your pants and use a ruler?” (So Enid says on page 152). “Ouzo was slightly less treacherous than the Viet Cong” (p 231), and “He drove down the straight, smooth shotgun barrel of his thoughts, not paying attention to anything outside, trusting his hands on the wheel and his feet on the pedals to guide him scratchless through the physical world” (p 269).

Author fact: Estleman also wrote a mystery series starring a character called Amos Walker.

Book trivia: Motown takes place thirty years after Whiskey River.

Play list: “Blowin’ in the Wind,””House of the Rising Sun,” “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Summer in the City,” “The Quest,” Smokey Robinson, Sammy Davis Jr., Stevie Wonder, Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence,” Cab Calloway, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Dean Martin, Eartha Kitt, Elvis, Little Richard, Petula Clark, Nancy Sinatra’s “these Boots Were Made for Walking,” the Supremes’s “Itching My Heart,”, Otis Redding, the Miracles, Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman,” Beach Boys’s “Little Deuce Coupe,” “Freedom Road,” Lou Rawls, Little Anthony, “Praise Ye Lord,” the Temptations,” Barry McGuire, Pat Boone, and Frank Sinatra.

Nancy said: Pearl said to read Jitterbug after Whiskey River. I’m reading Motown because it was written directly after Whiskey River. Not sure if I’m right or not.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Big Ten Country: the Literary Midwest (Michigan)” (p 26).


Perelandra

Lewis, C.S. Perelandra. Scribner, 2003.

Reason read: January is National Science Fiction month.

Every time I read a science fiction of Lewis’s I can’t help but think of The Wardrobe series and how it could have easily been written in an even more fantastic manner. Instead of an unknown land beyond a wardrobe, the children could have landed on a completely different planet in a completely different universe. But I digress…
Perelandra is a Planet of Pleasure (Venus) where strange desires give way to shameless naked beauty much like the Garden of Eden. Meanwhile, Evil is trying to create a New World Order. Sound familiar? Religion is heavy-handed and ever present in Lewis’s work. Perelandra is either orgasmic or hellish; hideous or beautiful. The colors are vibrant and throbbing: gold and green oceans and silver flashes across the sky. That was the element of Perelandra I liked the best. The imagery was fantastic.
Here’s a stereotype: Ransom needs to travel naked like so many other time travelers. I guess clothes are hard to transmute through time and space.

Author fact: I don’t think I have mentioned this before, but Lewis was an academic.

Book trivia: Perelandra was also called Voyage to Venus.

Nancy said: Pearl put Perelandra in the category of fantasy.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 213).