Florence Nightingale

Bostridge, Mark. Florence Nightingale: the Making of an Icon. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.

Reason read: Florence Nightingale passed in the month of August. Read in her memory.

I read this biography in the hopes of shedding the cliche Florence Nightingale has inadvertently become in my mind. The very name conjures up a saintly figure of epic kindness. A woman with angel wings and endless patience. Someone with a glowing halo and endless caring calm. I wanted Bostridge’s biography to turn an otherwise glossy icon into flesh and bone with faults and no-so-saintly feelings. It turns out, the public did a lot to add to the “lady with the lamp” mythology for when the desperate attach an attribute like hope to a person, the image becomes angelic. Such was the desperation of soldiers during the Crimean War. The lamp Nightingale often carried beat back the darkness (and encroaching fear of death) with its soothing soft glow. Elizabeth Gaskell called her a saint. John Davies implied she was a goddess with a magic touch.
Tidbits of interesting not-so-saintly information I enjoyed learning: from an early age Nightingale wanted to care for the sick. She was not shy about voicing her criticism regarding hospital conditions: defective ventilation and horrid sanitation practices. She didn’t get along well with others as her persistence for improved conditions irked administrators far and wide. Through and despite all that, like a modern day celebrity craze, there was a insatiable demand for her likeness. Portraits of her cropped up everywhere. People were writing music about her. By 1855 people were naming boats and buildings after her.
Trivial details: Nightingale traveled through Egypt to Cairo with budding author Gustave Flaubert by sheer coincidence. She made Elizabeth Gaskell’s acquaintance. She had a sister who lost her identity in the shadow of Florence’s greatness. Florence made unusual animals her pets, a cicada and and owl.
There is no doubt Florence Nightingale: the Making of an Icon is the result of meticulous research.

When I am dead and gone will people remember me as someone in a “righteous rage to get things done” like Florence Nightingale was remembered? I just love that image of her.

Author fact: Bostridge also wrote Vera Brittain and the First World War: the Story of Testament of Truth, which is not on my Challenge list, but I am reading Vera Brittain’s Testament books.

Book trivia: Florence Nightingale is full of black and white illustrations and photography.

Nancy said: Pearl called Florence Nightingale a really good biography.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Egypt” (p 75). Florence Nightingale should not be included in this chapter because it is not about Egypt, the majority of the biography does not take place in Egypt, nor is Egypt important to the life of Florence.


My Life on the Line

O’Callaghan, Ryan with Cyd Zeigler. My Life on the Line: How the NFL Damn Near Killed Me. and Ended Up Saving My Life. Brooklyn, New York: Edge of Sports, 2019.

Reason read: as part of the Early Review program for LibraryThing.

When I requested My Life on the Line I was not prepared to have my heart broken. This is the simple story of an NFL football player trying to conceal his true self throughout his sports career. For twenty eight long years he had a secret. Hiding behind anything and everything to make himself look “manly” Ryan O’Callahan was in constant fear of being outted as a homosexual. No one could find out. No one. Tough language, big trucks, country music, guzzling beer, deer hunting, drugs, and bullying were all part of the smoke and mirrors game; all tactics O’Callaghan used so no one could accuse him of even a hint of being gay. His perception was a homosexual man wouldn’t use foul language. A gay man wouldn’t drive a big truck or take drugs and he certainly wouldn’t listen to Garth Brooks! At the center of it all was being a professional football player. For as long as O’Callaghan was playing this manly game he reasoned he could stay alive. Without football he was convinced he couldn’t hide; being exposed meant certain death at his own hand. Even when people close to him started to suspect, O’Callaghan would emphatically deny it, thinking the NFL was his perfect cover.
Then came the injuries and the surgeries and the pain, one after another like unrelenting sea surge. The more O’Callaghan damaged his body the faster his addiction to pain killers grew. He had easy access to prescriptions and at one point was using from nine different doctors. The prospect of playing football professionally hung in the balance as his drug use spiraled out of control and like all dangerous games, it had to come to an end sooner or later.

An added bonus to O’Callaghan’s story was learning a little more about NFL quarterback, Aaron Rodgers. His story was a little disappointing…


Strong Motion

Franzen, Jonathan. Strong Motion. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1992.

Reason read: Franzen’s birth month is August.

I will say right off the bat that I did not particularly enjoy Strong Motion. There were chapters I definitely liked better than others. Had the plot been reduced to two or three story lines I think I would have liked it more. As it was, there was a lot going on in Strong Motion and I found myself bogged down by the verbose language and getting distracted very easily. The beginning of the book starts off simple enough. Louis Holland arrives in Boston right before a series of earthquakes start plaguing eastern Massachusetts. The first quake kills his wealthy grandmother, Rita Kernaghan, in a freak accident while no one else is even injured. From the moment you meet Louis you sense there is something off-centered or even dangerous about him. You don’t know whether to like him or not. He becomes fixated on his grandmother’s inheritance of twenty two million dollars. A battle ensues between him and his parents and sister for control of the money. In the meanwhile he has to balance his attraction to a Harvard seismologist studying the tremors that rock the eastern side of Massachusetts. Renee Seitchek knows the earthquakes are more than just a natural phenomenon (since when has the eastern seaboard been a hotbed for shifting earth?) and soon her focus is on Sweeting-Aldren, a petrochemical and weapons manufacturer, as the culprit. Is it possible they drilled holes deep enough to bury toxic waste causing Teutonic plates to collide? Throw in feminist issues, pro-life controversies, capitalist greed, attempted murder and environmental degradation and you have the whole of Strong Motion. Amidst apocalyptic chaos of epic proportions the Red Sox are in first place…

Author fact: Frazen demonstrates his knowledge of Massachusetts by carelessly tossing out names of towns like Waltham and Somerville.

Book trivia: Strong Motion is Franzen’s second novel.

Nancy said: Pearl called Strong Motion an excellent pomo book.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “The Postmodern Condition” (p 190).


Secret Life of Lobsters

Corson, Trevor. The Secret Life of Lobsters. New York: Harper Collins, 2004.

Reason read: Rockland, Maine holds a Lobster Festival every year during the first week of August. I have been once.

I originally put off reading The Secret Life of Lobsters thinking it was going to be bogged down with dry research statistics. Instead, I found a warm, and humorous yet fact-filled account of not only the life of lobsters but of the men who make their livelihood trying to catch them, Corson included. Chapters alternate between scientists and their research and lobstermen of Little Cranberry Island, Maine, and their struggle to farm the sea. There were things I knew (the cod is the biggest natural predator of lobsters and lobster is loaded with sodium) and lots more I didn’t know, like there are 52 species of Crustacea and the sex life of a lobster is brutal!

Confessional: I grew up eating lobster like it was chicken. Every so often my father would barter welding services for a few pounds of lobster for “his girls” while he himself couldn’t touch the stuff (allergic), so the entire time I was reading The Secret Life of Lobsters I was willing myself to not make comparisons to Monhegan’s way of life.

Quotes I just had to quote, “The problem was that the male lobster appeared not to have a penis” (p 46), and “Quite possibly, lobsters were sensing each other and sending signals – “I beat you up last night, remember?” or “Would you liketo mate with me, I’m about to undress?” – by pissing in each other’s faces” (p 196).

Author fact: Corson is a marine biologist and a third generation lobersterman so he knows his stuff!

Book trivia: The Secret Life of Lobsters does not contain any photographs or maps. I was bummed not to see the latter. It would have been fun to track some of the places Corson mentioned.

Nancy said: Pearl says Secret Life of Lobsters is about “what’s known, and not, about the lobster…” (Book Lust To Go p 135).

BookLust Twist: from book Lust To Go in the chapter called “The Maine Chance” (p 135).


Foundation’s Edge

Asimov, Isaac. Foundation’s Edge. New York: Doubleday, 1982.

Reason read: to continue the series started in January in honor of Asimov’s birth month.

Golan Trevize is convinced the second Foundation is controlling events on the planet Terminus. Instead of having him imprisoned or executed for treason, Mayor Harla Branno sends him on a quest – find the second Foundation if you are so convinced it exists. I dare you. For she too, secretly thinks there is a second Foundation but can’t say it out loud. Trevize simply must find out for her so the catch is he cannot return until he finds evidence one way or another. To help him with this quest Trevize is assigned a partner, professor of Ancient History, Janor Pelorat. Only Pelorat has another motive. He wants to discover the mythical planet of Earth…which sets up the next book in the series. Earth has been removed from the archives of the Galatic Library on Trantor.
Trevize and Pelorat discover the second Foundation does exist on the planet Trantor. Turns out, Trantor has similar fears about the first Foundation. So the battle of misconceptions starts.

Author fact: Asimov died in Brooklyn, New York.

Book trivia: Foundation’s Edge was Asimov’s first book to become a New York Times best seller. It also won a Hugo and Locus Award.

Nancy said: nothing specific about Foundation’s Edge.

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


Bronx Masquerade

Grimes, Nikki. Bronx Masquerade. New York: Dial Books, 2002.

Reason read: August is the time of year when parents start thinking about sending their kids back to school. Bronx Masquerade takes place in high school.

Eighteen teenagers from all walks of life use poetry to tell it like it is. In the form of a poetry slam each student in Mr. Ward’s class gets an opportunity to share a piece of him or herself. Not all are eager for the spotlight, but the more students stand up and share, the more the others get to thinking this poetry thing isn’t such a bad idea.

  • Lupa Algann – her big sister had a baby so she wants one.
  • Janelle Battle – has a crush on Devon; has a weight problem she is self- conscious about.
  • Judianne Alexander – she sells herself short; has a crush on Tyrone.
  • Leslie Lucas – lost her mom at a young age.
  • Gloria Martinez – she had a baby while still a sophomore in high school; baby daddy wants nothing to do with the child.
  • Diondra Jordan – a shy artist.
  • Sheila Gamberoni – wants to be more “ethnic”so she asks to change her name in class. Even though she is Italian heritage she has white skin.
  • Raul Ramirez – An artist with ambition.
  • Amy Moscowitz – an atheist who comes from a Jewish family
  • Tyrone Bittings – closest character to a protagonist the story has. He responds to every poem and his perceptions of his classmates. He is convinced he is going to die young if the color of his skin has anything to say about it.
  • Devon Hope – a basketball player.
  • Wesley “Bad Boy” Boone – tough guy who loves music.
  • Raynard Patterson – cousin to Sterling.
  • Darien Lopez – Puerto Rican boy trying to break out of the stereotypical mold.
  • Chankara Troupe – comes from an abusive home.
  • Others: Tanisha, Steve, Sterling, and Porscha

All of these students pull courage from their classmates and try it on for themselves. One by one they are pulled to the front of the classroom to stand up strong. By doing so they reveal glimpses of lives their classmates knew nothing about.
Mr. Ward’s Open Mike class gains momentum when a reporter gets wind of the class and makes a visit.
Best surprise: Grimes features real life poet Pedro Pietri.

Quotes I had to quote, “Knees knocking like a skeleton on Halloween, embarrassment bleaching my black cheeks red, eyes stupid to the page in front of me” (p 4). If that doesn’t describe nerves, I don’t know what!
Here’s another – “I try on my life like a dress and it doesn’t fit” (p 110). Last one, “The truth of his words pinned me to the wall” (p 135).

Author fact: Grimes also wrote Jazmin’s Notebook which won a Coretta Scott King Honor award.

Book trivia: the copy I read was the ten year re-release with a new introduction by the author.

Nancy said: Pearl indicated Bronx Masquerade was good for boys and girls.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Teens” (p 24).


Antonia Saw the Oryx First

Thomas, Maria. Antonia Saw the Oryx First. New York: Soho, 1987.

Reason read: August is Friendship Month.

Antonia Redmond and Esther Moro have an interesting relationship as they couldn’t be anymore different from one another. Antonia, an educated white woman, was born to American parents but has lived in Dar es Salaam, Africa nearly all of her life. As a doctor, she has been schooled in traditional modern medicine. Meanwhile, Esther Moro is on the other end of the spectrum as a woman who sells her body to make ends meet. “She knows only men” as the band The Horseflies would say. After a particularly violent encounter with a Greek fisherman Esther and Antonia meet as patient and doctor. At first Esther wants Antonia to teach her the rules of modern medicine, but soon discovers she has the power to heal within her already. Esther listens to her culture’s whisperings of witchcraft, ancient legends, and curses.

Author fact: Maria Thomas was a pen name for Roberta Worrick. She died in a plane crash was she was only 47 years old.

Book trivia: Two pieces of trivia, actually. Antonia Saw the Oryx First was Thomas’s first novel. She also wrote African Visas which is on my Challenge list for May 2031.

Nancy said: Pearl doesn’t say anything specific about the book or the author; just describes the plot a little.

BookLust Twist: Twice from Book Lust. Once in the chapter called “African Colonialism: Fiction” (p 14) and also in the Book Lust chapter “Women’s Friendships” (p 247).