Baldwin, Monica. I Leap Over the Wall: Contrasts and Impressions After Twenty-Eight Years in a Convent. New York: Rinehart & Company, 1950.
Reason read: Easter is one of the most religious holidays I know. During this pandemic crisis my family had a zoom meeting in order to be together. Read Baldwin in recognition of Easter.
Like the title implies, Monica Baldwin spent twenty-eight years of her life in a Roman Catholic convent. She had thought she wanted to give her life to God until one day…she didn’t. So after twenty-eight years, she left. Just like that. The first order of business “on the outside” was for Baldwin to find suitable clothes for the outside world. The second critical task was to secure suitable employment. The first was easier than the second considering England was in the midst of World War II. Baldwin struggled as a gardener, a matron at a camp for female munitions workers, a canteen cook, and a librarian. At heart she was always a writer. I Leap Over the Wall was meant to be a journalistic memoir, contrasting and comparing the structured life of being a nun to the haphazardness of the outside. Readers get a sense of how structured Baldwin’s life had been on the inside: the day to day duties of a novice and even the caste-like division of the monastic houses. Despite this structure, something she thought she needed, Baldwin knew from the very beginning that entering the convent was a mistake. It took her twenty-eight years to seek rescript from the Vatican.
Author fact: I find it really interesting that Baldwin entered the convent soon after the start of World War I and emerged during World War II.
Book trivia: My copy of I Leap Over the Wall was inscribed “Elinor E. Parker February 1, 1950 Brooklyn, N.Y.” I have no idea who Elinor was or how her book ended up in the attic of my parents.
Nancy said: Pearl said she was entranced with Baldwin’s book because it was a world she would never know.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers: the Family of the Clergy” (p 86).
Duncan, David James. The Brothers K. Read by Robertson Dean. New York: Dial Press, 1996.
Reason read: April is National Sibling month. April is Easter. April is spring training month for baseball. April is Humor month. The Brothers K has all these elements and more.
To say this is the saga of one family in the Pacific Northwest state of Washington would be only somewhat accurate. To call The Brothers K a book about baseball and religion would also be somewhat accurate. Papa Hugh “Smoke” Chance was a talented enough pitcher to be drafted into the minor leagues and was on his way to the majors. Mama Chance was an extremely devout Seven Day Adventist. Baseball and religion. As with any parents of influence, their themes are the backbone of The Brothers K. Arguably, there is a great deal of sports play by play and religious fervor, as other reviewers have pointed out. What saves The Brothers K from being long winded and tedious is narrator and youngest son, Kincade Chance. His humor and sharp wit keep the plot from getting too bogged down. Interspersed with his story is older brother, Everett’s school essay and biography about the family patriarch.
Despite there being six children in the Chance household, only eldest Everett, middle brother Peter, and next to youngest brother Irwin have significant stories. Kincade doesn’t share very many details about himself and even less about his science obsessed twin sisters, Winnifred and Beatrice. Everett grows up to be an outspoken politician against the Vietnam War. Peter becomes the perpetual student; first studying at Harvard, then Buddhism in India. Irwin’s tragic story is that he sent to Vietnam and forever changed.
As an aside, I have a friend who always says “darn tootin'” whenever he is absolutely sure of something. Until The Brothers K I had never heard anyone else say that.
Author fact: Duncan also wrote River Why and My Story as Told by Water, both on my Challenge list.
Book Audio trivia: Robertson Dean’s reading of The Brothers K is fantastic.
Nancy said: Pearl called Brothers K “engrossing” (“Brothers and Sisters”),
“well-written and interesting” (“Families in Trouble”), and a novel “complicated by the whole Oedipal shtick” (“Mothers and Sons”).
BookLust Twist: You can always tell when Pearl likes a book. It will show up in a bunch of different places. For Brothers K it is indexed in Book Lust in three different chapters, “Brothers and Sisters” (p 46), “Families in Trouble” (p 82), and “Mothers and Sons” (p 160).
Parkin, Gaile. Baking Cakes in Kigali. New York: Delacorte Press, 2009.
Reason read: the Rwanda genocide happened on April 6th, 1994. Read in memory of that event.
Respected as a skilled baker in her new Rwandan community, Angel Tungaraza also acts as a voice of reason and likes to solve her customer’s problems whether they ask for her help or not (think of a bartender or hair dresser; someone who can listen to one’s woes and offer advice for the sheer sake of chitchat). Drawing from her life in Tanzania, she manages to help her friends and neighbors in unique ways. Angel isn’t without her faults, though. She protects her reputation fiercely and can come across as snobbish when she doesn’t approve of the cake someone else has baked or designed. If the customer chooses colors and styles that are “boring” in Angel’s opinion she secretly scoffs at them. She also carries a secret shame; one that she cannot even admit to herself.
Throughout Baking Cakes in Kigali I was comparing Angela to Angela Lansbury in “Murder, She Wrote.” Only instead of murders, Angel Tungaraza muddles her way through issues such as adultery, ritual cutting, equal rights for women, and racial prejudices; tackling the aftershocks of societal catastrophes such as AIDS and the Rwandan genocide.
Author fact: Parkin also wrote When Hoopoes Go to Heaven which is not on my Challenge list.
Book trivia: Many, many people compared Baking Cakes in Kigali to Alexander McCall Smith’s series.
Nancy said: Pearl called Baking Cakes in Kigali “charming.”
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Africa: the Greenest Continent” (p 8).
Kuklin, Susan. In Search of Safety: Voices of Refugees. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2020.
Reason read: this is an Early Review from LibraryThing. Although I am hardly reading anything these days, this was too important to ignore.
In Search of Safety is comprised of five refugee stories from five different parts of the world yet all have two common threads. All five stories are of individuals seeking safety despite varying circumstances. They all end up in the United States in, of all places, Nebraska.
Fraidoon from Afghanistan, Nathan from Myanmar, Nyarout from South Sudan, Shireen from Northern Iraq, and Dieudonne from Burundi. Each refugee demonstrates remarkable courage, strength and, above all, trust to journey to America. In Search of Safety is compassionate and Kuklin is respectful in telling each harrowing story. The book’s hidden strength is the amount of information in Part VI: Notes and Resources.
Book trivia: there is a great number of touching photographs and (in the published edition) maps.
Durrell, Gerald. My Family and Other Animals. London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1956.
Reason read: April is Humor month. If this makes me laugh through any part of Covid-19 I say bring it on!
Gerald Durrell wanted to write a serious book about the animals he encountered as a ten year old child on the the island of Corfu. Instead, his sense of humor and wacky family kept getting the better of his memories from 1935 – 1939. Instead of just documenting the creatures of his childhood, My Family and Other Animals is a hilarious memoir with some pretty unbelievable (obviously exaggerated) moments. How is it possible that eldest son, Lawrence, convinces his widowed mom to pack up their London home and transplant a family of three kids and a dog to the Greek island of Corfu? This same mom not only tolerates the critters Gerald brings into the house, but accepts them as bona fide pets. Insects, lizards, turtles, birds all join the Durrell family with hilarious results.
Best quote to quote, “I forgot about the eminent danger of being educated, and went off with Roger to hunt for glowworms in the sprawling brambles” (p 52). Typical kid.
Author fact: the list of books Durrell has written is extensive. I am only reading the Corfu trilogy.
Book trivia: My Family and Other Animals is part of a trilogy. I am reading all three for the Challenge.
Nancy said: Pearl mentioned My Family and Other Animals as one that made her laugh out loud.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Tickle Your Funny Bone” (p 220).
Haviland, Virginia, ed. The Openhearted Audience: Washington D.C.: Library of Congress, 1980.
Reason read: Pearl included this in the chapter called “Your Tax Dollars at Work” and tax filing time is normally April. Read in memory of normalcy.
Openhearted Audience is a collection of essays (actually lectures given in observance of National Children’s Book Week, (in November) at the Library of Congress) by authors who primarily write books for children:
- Pamela Travers who wrote the Mary Poppins series (which is not on my list).
- Maurice Sendak who wrote so many good books (everyone knows Where the Wild Things Are). None are on my challenge list, though. I liked what he had to say about New York, “Now, the point of going to New York was that you ate in New York” (p 32). Amen.
- Joan Didion who wrote Miami, which I finished for the challenge and Play It as It Lies which will be read later. she wanted to know what it means to write for children as opposed to adults. Is there stigma attached to writing for a less developed intelligence?
- Erik Haugaard who made the point about sharing art. I have often wondered why it is important to us that people first agree, then like, our recommendations where art is concerned. the fact we can find ourselves offended when one doesn’t share our opinions, or worse, dislike the recommendation mystifies me. Even though we didn’t produce the art, write the book, or make the movie, we feel rejected somehow; as if the art we presented were our own.
- Ursula K. Le Guin who wrote The Wizard of Earthsea (her first book for children).
- Ivan Southall who said “Life is more than blunt reaction” (p 87).
- Virginia Hamilton who won the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1969.
- Jill Paton Walsh who won the Whitbread Literary Award in 1974.
- Eleanor Cameron who talks of dreams.
- John Rowe Townsend who was both a critic and a children’s writer.
Author Editor fact: Haviland interviewed Sendak. I wonder what that experience was like because he seemed like a curmudgeon.
Book trivia: Openhearted Audience is full of great illustrations.
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything about this selection. In fact, she didn’t pick it. A librarian from Illinois sent Pearl a list of government documents people should read and Openhearted Audience was included.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust as mentioned before in the chapter called “You Tax Dollars at Work” (p 239).
Wallis, Velma. Two Old Women: An Alaskan Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival. New York: Perennial, 1993.
Reason read: Seward Day is in March.
Two old women do not know each other very well before being abandoned by their People. Surviving the wilds of Arctic Circle Alaska is serious business, especially when you are elderly. Winter is closing in, food is scarce, and it is time for the tribe to be moving on. The Athabaskan Chief and his Council make the tough decision to leave their weakest behind in order to survive the harsh elements. This means seventy-five year old Sa’ and eighty year old Ch’idzigyaak are left to fend for themselves: finding food, making clothes, securing shelter, and staving off loneliness. These women are tough and resourceful, which makes for great perseverance.
Spoiler alert. This has a happy ending so you know the women survive. That wasn’t the plot twist for me. What I didn’t expect was the women’s fear of their tribe “finding” them again. They were suspicious of potential malevolent behavior (including cannibalism) if they were discovered to have survived. Even when they are reunited with their People, it takes time to trust them again. Who can blame them?
In my modern day society, I thought could not imagine a society where a community leaves its elderly behind, knowing full well they will probably will die. But then again, oh wait. I do. Italy, March 2020. They had to make the hard decision to not offer ventilators to anyone over the age of 80. Survival of the fittest.
Quote I liked best, “The body needs food but the mind needs people” (p 65).
Author fact: Wallis was born in the Alaskan interior. Two Old Women is her first novel.
Book trivia: Two Old Women was illustrated by James Grant.
Nancy said: Pearl actually didn’t chose Two Old Women. She asked author Dana Stabenow to select some Alaskan titles. Stabenow said Two Old Women is very controversial in Alaska.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “All Set For Alaska” (p 15).