December was the whirlwind it always is. Exams, hiring, and personnel evaluations at work. Christmas cards and wrapping gifts at home. Celebrations with families and friends. The bestie and I had a great time on the last weekend before Christmas shopping. Yes, you read that correctly. We braved the stores on the Sunday before Christmas and had a blast. Kisa and I traveled to South Deerfield, Peaks Island, and Rockland for the holidays. Rockland was an unexpected twist, but it gave us more time with the mom. I didn’t get to all the books on my list. I couldn’t get a hold of the Seuss book to save my life. I should have known better. And, I wasn’t in the mood for Milne. Imagine that. The November Early Review never arrived. No big surprise there. That makes three for the year that didn’t show up. Here are the other books:
Aguero Sisters by Cristina Garcia
Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak
Long Way from Home by Connie Briscoe
Art of Travel by Alain De Botton (AB)
Before the Deluge: a portrait of Berlin in the 1920s by Otto Friedrich
People’s History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons
Saddest Pleasure: a journey on two rivers by Moritz Thomsen
Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (AB)
The Master of Hestviken: In the Wilderness by Sigrid Undset
Without Fail by Lee Child
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).
December started with an overnight to New York City. This is going to sound strange coming from a girl from a small town in Maine, but I love, love, love the Big Apple. I love the grit and congestion. I love all the food choices (pizza!). Of course I also love the fact I can leave it!
We were there to see Natalie Merchant receive the John Lennon Real Love Award at Symphony Space. A fantastic night! Since we rattled down to the city via rails I was able to get a lot of reading done. Here is the proposed plan for the rest of the month:
- The Aguero Sisters by Cristina Garcia (EB) – in honor of December being the best month to visit the Caribbean. I thought I had gotten rid of all the “best month to travel to. [location” books but I guess not.
- A Long Way From Home by Connie Briscoe (EB) – in honor of Briscoe’s birth month being in December.
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss – for Christmas.
- Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne – in honor of the month Eeyore was born.
- A People’s History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons (P) – in honor of the history of the Constitution. Yes, I know I read this some years ago, but I can’t find the review anywhere, so I am reading it again.
- The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton (EB) – in honor of de Botton’s birth month being in December.
- A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (EB) – in honor of Bryson’s borth month being in December.
- Before the Deluge by Otto Friedrich (EB)- in honor of Berlin’s Tattoo Festival which takes place in December every year.
- Saddest Pleasure by Moritz Thomsen – in honor of Brazil’s first emperor.
- Without Fail by Lee Child (EB) – started in July.
- The Master of Hestviken: In the Wilderness by Sigrid Undset (EB) – started in October.
Walker, Alice. Good Night Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning. SanDiego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979.
Reason read: Walker’s birth month is in February.
Here’s how I read Good Night Willie Lee. I inhaled a poem, held my breath to ponder the collection of words within it, and exhaled my understanding of the connection to life. One poem at a time. Like rhythmic yoga breaths; like steady waves upon the shore, I took my time with each one of them. Each poem deserved to be fully digested as such. For when you read Walker’s poetry you get the sense she died a little with each offering. A small offering of her soul mixed with the words.
Favorite line – from the poem called Confession: “through cracks in the conversation.” What a beautiful image.
Author fact: Walker also wrote Meridian and Possessing the Secret of Joy, two novels also on my Challenge list.
Book trivia: the last poem in the book explains the title. I picture her father’s funeral.
Nancy said: Pearl said that Walker is best known for her award winning novel, The Color Purple, but “readers shouldn’t miss her poetry” (Book Lust p 2).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “A…My Name is Alice” (p 1).
Edim, Glory, ed. Well-Read Black Girl: Finding Our Stories, Discovering Ourselves. New York: Ballantine Books, 2018.
Reason read: as part of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing, this was the November selection.
I am not a Black girl, nor am I a girl anymore. So. So what am I doing requesting to read and review Edim’s anthology, Well-Read Black Girl? I’ll tell you why. As a librarian, I want to be prepared for anyone of any color, of any age, of any self-identified gender, anyone at all to ask me for a book recommendation. Librarians, take note: Edim puts together a well-crafted and thoughtful list of books to read. Like Nancy Pearl in her Lust books, Edim compiles recommendations for all types of reading: genres like classics, fantasy, science fiction, plays and poetry; or themes like feminism, childhood, and friendship. There is a book for that. And that. That, too. Despite the wealth of information in Edim’s various lists I actually loved the essays even more. Women with varying careers and backgrounds and life experiences weigh in on what book meant the most to her or had a lasting impact while growing up. You hear from not just authors, journalists and playwrights but an activist, an actress, a producer; people outside the realm of putting pen to paper. It is a joy they share their thoughts with eloquence and grit. Their stories truly bring a deeper meaning to the books they mention. Their words make you want to go back and reread the stories with a different perspective.
Interesting overlap – I had just finished reading Four Spirits by Sena Jeter Naslund when I got to Barbara Smith’s essay, “Go Tell It.” When talking about her own childhood Smith remembers Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Carol Denise McNair.
I try not to think about white rabbits running around with time pieces muttering about being late. Whenever I do I am reminded this is being written three days behind schedule. Nevertheless, here are the books:
- Foundation by Isaac Asimov – in honor of Asimov’s birth month.
- Lamb in Love by Carrie Brown – this is a stretch…All Creatures Great and Small first aired as a television show in January and there is a creature in the title.
- The Good Times are Killing Me by Lynda Barry – in honor of Barry’s birth month.
- A Cold Blooded Business by Dana Stabenow – in honor of Alaska becoming a state in January.
- Daisy Bates in the Desert by Julia Blackburn – in honor of Australia’s National Day on January 26th.
- The Turk by Tom Standage in honor of Wolfgang Von Klempelen’s birth month.
- Freedom in Meditation by Patricia Carrington – in honor of January being National Yoga month.
- Sibley’s Guide to Bird Life and Behavior by David Allen Sibley – in honor of Adopt a Bird Month. I read that somewhere…
- To Lie with Lions by Dorothy Dunnett – to continue the series started in August in honor of Dunnett’s birth month.
- Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman – to continue the series started in November in honor of National Writing Month (Fantasy).
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Well-Read Black Girl by Glory Edim – I know what you are thinking. I am neither black nor a girl. I am a middle-aged white woman who barely remembers being a girl. I requested this book because I work in an extremely diverse environment and let’s face it, I want to be known as well-read, regardless of color.
- Sharp by Michelle Dean – my sister gave this to me as a Christmas gift. I wonder if she is trying to tell me something.
Gaines, Ernest J. The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Read by Lynn Thigpen. New York: Recorded Books, 1994.
Reason read: February is Black History month
Miss Jane Pittman could be your great-grandmother, she is that real of a character. I’m sure listening to this on audio had something to do with that perception. When 100 year old Miss Pittman tells her life story to an unidentified high school history teacher it’s as if she is sitting in your living room. Beginning when she was ten years old and freed from slavery in the deep south, she recounts her journey to leave the Louisiana plantation she has known all her life. She is looking for the white abolitionist who gave her new “free” name. All she knows is that he is somewhere in Ohio. So, to Ohio she heads. Along the way she befriends an orphan boy and encounters seemingly overwhelming obstacles. But, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say, overcome these obstacles, she does. She raises the orphan boy as her own and even though she doesn’t make it out of Louisiana, forges a life for herself.
One point of observation is that while Miss Jane Pittman has lived a long life, you don’t hear her talk a lot about her own personal life. She would rather discuss the people around her and how they influenced her.
Quotes to quote, ‘”…America is for all of us.” he said,”and all of America is for all of us”‘ (p 115), “He wasn’t aiming to break the door in, he wanted to chop it down” (p 195), and my favorite, “And I will eat vanilla ice cream which I loves and enjoys” (p 219).
Author fact: I could have read this last month in honor of Gaines’s birth month. He was born in January.
Narrator funny: There were times when I was reminded of the actress Whoopie Goldberg when listening to Ms. Thigpen.
Book trivia: The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman was made into a movie. The release date was January 11th, 2005.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the early chapter called “African American Fiction: He Say” (p 11).