Chasing Che

Symmes, Patrick. Chasing Che: a Motocycle Journey in Seach of the Guevara Legend. Vintage Departures, 2000.

Reason read: celebrating the last full month Che Guevara was alive (he died in early October 1967).

There is so much mystery surrounding the life and times of Ernesto “Che” Guevara. His 1952 road trip from Argentina through Chile and up to Bolivia somehow changed him in radical ways. Patrick Symmes wanted to know more about that fateful trip, so why not trace Che’s footsteps and take the same exact journey? Che was on a motorcycle. Symmes would be on a motorcycle. Symmes drew not only from Guevara’s memoir, Notas de Viaje, as his guide, he was fortunate to have the road diaries of Guevara’s traveling companion, Alberto Granado, as well. [As an aside, often times, Notas de Viaje and Testimony: With El Che Across South America would contradict one another. I found it interesting that, more often than not, Symmes tended to believe Guevara over Granado.] Many people will be inspired to retrace the journey of someone else; to follow in their geographic footsteps, but Symmes takes his adventure to another level, searching out the exact places and people Che met along the way. His motto was “Be Like Che.” Would these same people remember the vibrant and charismatic young man? What could Symmes learn from them? By doing this, Symmes was able to meet with remarkable individuals, like Che’s former girlfriend who could not talk about Ernesto, the lover; Douglas Thompkins, the millionaire who bought up Patagonian land to preserve an ancient way of life; and even everyday people who kept Symmes rolling through the miles and navigating the harsh South American landscape. Symmes learned to tolerate drinking yerba mate and having discussions about Nazis in Argentina. He suffered dog bites, cracked ribs, barbed wire, and road spills. Most importantly, Symmes was able to be like Che. When Che mooches off individuals Symmes is able to apply the same tactics with somewhat similar success. The result of Chasing Che is more than a memoir and a travelogue, it is a love letter to one of the most influential people of the twentieth century.

Author fact: Symmes has his own website.

Book trivia: I wish there had been photographs.

Setlist of sorts: “Happy Birthday”, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, and Rage Against the Machine.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Chasing Che.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “In the Footsteps Of…” (p 100).


Moloka’i

Brennert, Alan. Moloka’i. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2003.

Reason read: Hawaii became a state in August.

There is no doubt that Brennert loves the Hawaiian islands. His knowledge of customs and beliefs run deep. Woven throughout the story of Moloka’i are the contradictions of Christianity versus native Hawaiian religion, the spirit of ohana and stories of sacred mythology, and last but not least, the misunderstandings and stigma surrounding what was then known as leprosy.
Rachel Kalama experiences the harsh realities of life when at only seven years of age she contracts leprosy and finds herself a prisoner on the island of Moloka’i. With the innocence only a child can possess, she is able to adapt and make the best of her situation, despite experiencing abandonment, prejudice, and fear surrounding her leprosy badge of shame. She makes friends easily although family dynamics change radically once her infection is confirmed. Only her father and uncle stand by her while her mother and siblings seemingly abandon her to her fate. As Rachel comes of age she navigates relationships with men with the same courage and tenacity. She learns what it means to be feared for her diseased and loved despite it.

As an aside, I couldn’t help but compare the treatment of leprosy with the first few months of the AIDS and Covid-19 epidemics. It is easy to see why in the late 1800s officials treated patients contagious with leprosy so aggressively. Fear dictated their decisions. The isolation, or arrest, of infected people is not unlike the quarantine of Corona virus patients. The stigma of leprosy is equal to the shame of someone testing HIV positive.

Author fact: Brennert worked as a writer-producer for L.A. Law.

Book trivia: I could picture Moloka’i as a movie.

Playlist: “Rock of Ages”, “Hawai’i Pon’i”, “Whiskey Johnnie”, “Blow the Man Down”, “Pua Alani”, Chopsticks”, “Frere Jacques”, Casruso, “Hali’alauni”, “Taps”, “Aloha De”, and “Autumn Serenade”.

Nancy said: Pearl called Moloka’i brilliant.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Hawaii” (p 93). Pearl also could have included it in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Men Channeling Woman”.


Prince of Tides

Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides. Bantam Books, 1986.

Reason read: the memory of how Conroy described summers in the south has always stayed with me. Read in honor of the end of summer.

“If Henry Wingo had not been a violent man, I think he would have made a splendid father” (p 5). That sums up The Prince of Tides in a nutshell. Well, sort of. No. Not really. I want to say it is about loving someone so fiercely you love well beyond any pain they could bring you. The writing of Pat Conroy is so beautiful it is hard to believe the subject matter of Prince of Tides could be so dark. The damaged Wingo family will stay with you long after you have closed the massive 600-plus page book. Most affected is Savannah Wingo, the sister-twin of Tom, who speaks to the hidden ones, hallucinates angels hanging from lamposts and self-mutilates herself to stave off the voice of her father urging her to kill herself. In reality, the bad times roll in as constant as the South Carolina tide for all of the Wingos. The entire family experiences enough unimaginable terrors to last a lifetime. To name a few: a father badly wounded surviving the horrors of World War II with a little help from a priest; Grandpa’s black widow spiders used as a defense from a stalker intent on raping Lila, the Wingo mother; four stillborn children one right after the other, each kept in the freezer like porkchops until it was time to bury them in the backyard; a tiger trained to rip someone’s face off…Probably the worst offense is not Henry Wingo, a father who beats his wife and children. The inexplicable nightmare is Lila Wingo, a woman so hellbent on keeping a prestine and proud reputation she denies every horror. Is this southern living or a perpetual seventh circle of hell?
Savannah is only partially able to escape her violent past by moving to New York City. After her latest suicide attempt is very close to successful, Savannah’s therapist calls Tom, her twin brother, for insight into the Wingo family. In order to help Savannah Dr. Lowenstein needs to dig deeper into the entire family’s tumultuous history. What emerges is Tom’s own tragic story of coming of age as a souther male in an abusive household. In the beginning of Prince of Tides, the character of Tom Wingo was only slightly annoying with his “American Male” posturing. But by page 300 you realize after all that he and his family have gone through he is allowed to tell jokes when it hurts. He has survived by humor his entire life.
Conroy’s Prince of Tides is a strange love letter to the Southern way of life. It is a story of tenacity and tenderness.

As an aside, Savannah’s mysteries were so intriguing I kept a list:

  • Dogs howling
  • Spiders – the Wingo kids unleashed black widows on a man intent on hurting their mother.
  • White house
  • Caged tigers – Casaer the tiger.
  • Three men – three rapists
  • Woods – the forbidden property surrounding Callandwolde
  • Callanwold – the rich people’s mansion in Atlanta, Georgia. Soon became code for a stalker who attacked Lila and her family.
  • Rosedale Road
  • Taps for TPot
  • Brother’s mouth
  • Caesar – the tiger
  • Red pines
  • Gardenias – the flowers Lila wore in her hair
  • Giant – the 7′ man who tried to rape Lila
  • Pixie
  • Coca Cola – the owners of Coca Cola lived in Callanwolde
  • Seals – another of father’s gimicks
  • “a root for the dead men by the crow”
  • Talking graves
  • Snow angels

Haunting quotes to quote, “But there is no magic to nightmares” (p 7) and “We laugh when the pain gets too much” (p 188), and “Rape is a crime against sleep and memory; its afterimage imprints itself like an irreversable negative from the camera obscura of dreams” (483). There were many, many, many other lines I liked. Too many to mention here. Just go read the book for yourself.

Author fact: Pat Conroy also wrote Beach Music. It is not on my Challenge list, but I read it.

Book trivia: I think everyone knows the 1991 movie starring Nick Nolte and Barbra Steisand. In fact, this is one where a scene I vividly remember is NOT from the book.

Playlist: Bach, Vivaldi’s Chaconne, John Philip Sousa March, “Dixie:, “The Star Spangled Banner”, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”, “Pomp and Circumstance”, the Shirrelles, Jerry Lee Lewis, and “Blessed Be the tie that Binds”.

Nancy said: Pearl called Prince of Tides the definition of dysfunctional, a chronicle of dysfuntional families, a good “if not necessarily instructive on what mothers ought not to do” (Book Lust p 160), and “an interesting portrait of therapists of all stripes…” (p 221).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in a ton of places. First, in the chapter called (obviously), “Families in Trouble” (p 82), “Mothers and Sons” (p 160), “100 Good Reads Decade By Decade: 1980” (p 179), “Southern Fiction” (p 222), and “Shrinks and Shrinkees” (p 221).


Mosquito

Tearne, Roma. Mosquito. Europa Editions, 2008.

Reason read: Sri Lanka’s President Rajapaska’s party wins majority in elections (August 2020).

Mosquito has been compared to The English Patient and Atonement because of its theme of love in a time of war. Sri Lanka is a country torn apart. The Liberation Tigers want a separate Tamil state. Everyone is supposed to speak Singhala, the national language. There is violence over this mandated language. Mosquito is exquisite in its portraits of people. Each person lives and breathes with vitality. Notable author Theo Samarajeeva has fallen under the spell of a teenage artist (twenty-eight years his junoir) and, despite the growing conflicts, is brazen enough to think his fame will keep him safe. His latest book is being made into a movie. Teenaged Nulani Mendis (modeled after the author?) lost her father to the conflict. With a brother who can do no harm, a difficult uncle and an overbearing mother at home, Nulani finds solace and happiness painting Theo’s portrait over and over again. But she has also attracted the attention of Liberation Tiger convert, teenaged orphan Vikram. To watch Vikram being groomed and manipulated was hard. My favorite character was Sugi, Theo’s manservant who had become an unusual friend to the famous writer. His character is critical to the love affair between Theo and Nulani.
Tearne has captures poignant elements of grief. The not wanting to be near reminders of a loved one forever gone is very familiar to me. My only eye-rolling comment is the repeated insistence that 17-year-old Nulani is “wise beyond her years” as if this makes it okay for a man 28 years her senior to be attracted to her. My confessional: at the end of the book I wanted the fairytale ending. I didn’t care about the age difference and felt petty for doing so in the first place.

Lines I liked, “In this short intermission between twilight and darkness, a mysterious transformation had occured” (p 106) and “How many lives does a man have to live before he can finally be at peace?” (p 131). A little Bob Dylan, anyone?

Author fact: which came first, Roma Tearne the artist or the author?

Book trivia: Mosquito was shortlisted fothe 2007 Costa First Novel Award.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Mosquito other than to explain the plot.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Scenes From Sri Lanka” (p 196).


Bird Artist

Norman, Howard. The Bird Artist. Picador, 1994.

Reason read: August is fly like a bird month… or someone told me.

From the very first page of The Bird Artist, Howard Norman wants to draw you into the story by having his main character, Fabian Vas, nonchalantly admit that he murdered lighthouse keeper Botho August. The hook is why. Why did seemingly quiet and charming Vas kill August? Why does he admit to it so readily and so casually? Norman will drop other mysteries along the way to keep the reader strung along. Like, why is it risky to write about Fabian’s aunt? Fabian lives in Witless Bay, Newfoundland. Ir all begins when Fabian befriends town troublemaker Margaret. As a thirteen year old she accidentally killed a man. Soon their relationship blossoms into the “with benefits” type despite his arranged marriage to a distant cousin. Maybe it is a cultural thing, but the curious thing about Fabian is that nothing seems to really faze him. His apprenticeship with bird artist Isaac Sprague is shortlived when Sprague disappears in the spring of 1911. Fabian blames himself for being too much a critic of his mentor’s work. When he is moments away from marrying a complete stranger and being arrested for murder almost at the same time, Fabian shows little emotion. His emotion amounts to getting a little nervous when law enforcement shows up. For all of Fabian’s calm, Margaret is his exact opposite. She was my favorite character. Motherless and meandering, Margaret sets fire to life’s challenges. You end up rooting for their dysfunctional relationship no matter what the cost.

As an aside, how can one person consume 20-30 cups of coffee? Is it normal for a father to talk to his son about sex with his wife?

The other characters:

  • Dalton Gillette: Margaret hit him with her bicycle and he fell to his death. Mitchell Kelb investigated the case.
  • Romeo Gillette: widower; son is Dalton; hosted the Canadian Thanksgiving; recovering from a heart attack; owns a store; town gossip; acts as messenger for the characters under house arrest; bought the murder weapon from Mitchell Kelb.
  • Lambert Charibon: best friend of fathers; has a trout camp; doesn’t dream; supports Fabian’s artistic talents.
  • Cora Holly: Fabian is engaged to her despite being related (she is a distant cousin).
  • Aleric Vas: Fabian’s mother; has a sister named Madeleine; is four years younger than her husband; doesn’t like Margaret; is having an affair with the lighthouse keeper; while under house arrest she convinces Kelb to take her rowing; she broke Orkney’s heart.
  • Orkney Vas: Fabian’s father; hunts birds for a living; is instrumental in Fabian’s murder trial; saddest character in the book.
  • Isaac Sprague: birt artist; mysteriously disappeared in 1910; he was Fabian’s teacher by mail.
  • Madeleine: Fabian’s aunt.
  • Botho August: the murder victim; a man over 6′ tall; slim with blue-gray eyes; good at his job as keeper of the light; he listens to gramaphone records; paid for Margaret’s stockings; keeps to himself.
  • Reverend Sillet: 55 years old; hires Fabian to paint a mural.
  • Margaret Handler: 13 years old at the beginning of the story; dad bought her a bicycle; trades sexual favors with Fabian; four years older than Fabian; lives with her father, Enoch; mother died when she was seven; part Beothuk Indian; drinks a great deal of alcohol and can handle a gun. She was my favorite character.
  • Enoch Handler: carpenter and boat builder; hunter and pilots boats; despises priviledge; of average height, solid build with black hair; has a brother named Sebastian; daughter is Margaret; owns and runs the mailboat; takes Fabian to be married to Cora in Halifax.
  • Mitchell Kelb: constable; short man but in physically good shape; wears glasses; arrested Fabian on his wedding day; appointed representative magistrate at the trial.
  • Boas LaCotte: owns the sawmill; nephew is Giles.
  • Helen Twombly: owns the cold storage shack; is 80 years old in 1911; she is a widower; drowned; had an affair; Fabian paints her as a mermaid on his mural.
  • Uncle Sebastian (Bassie): Orkney’s brother; he was a career bank robber; broke Orkney’s jaw as a kid; Fabian hasn’t seen him since he was seven years old; taller than Orkney.
  • Paulette Bath: town librarian; she is a spirited woman in her late 50s or early 60s; she died when Fabian was 17 years old.
  • Giles LaCotte: owns an apple orchard and sawmill with uncle Boas; present at the trial.
  • Bridget Spivey: waitress at Spivey’s restaurant; short and lithe; in her 50s.
  • Lemuel: cook at Spivey’s; 6’2″ with a pudgy face, blue eyes and brown hair; slovenly with bold humor.
  • Odeon Sloo: new lightkeeper after Botho is murdered.
  • Kira Sloo: new lightkeepers wife.
  • Millie Sloo: new lightkeeper’s daughter.
  • Mami Corbett: makes a fruit cake for the characters under house arrest.
  • Llewellyn Boxer: deputy.
  • Hagerforse: owns the guest house where Fabian and Cora are to be married; in her late 50s.
  • Bevel Cabot: present at the trial
  • Miriam Auster: present at the trial
  • Ruth Henley: present at the trial
  • Olive Perrault: present at the trial
  • Elmer Wyatt: present at the trial
  • Peter Kieley: present at the trial
  • Patrick Flood: present at the trial; spoke at Botho’s funeral;
  • Seamus Doyle: present at the trial
  • John Rut: present at the trial
  • Averell Gray: justice of the peace
  • Alex Quorian: photographer for the wedding
  • Peter Kieley: alerted authorities to the murder of Botho
  • Darwin McKinney: dug Botho’s grave
  • Mekeel Dollard: takes notes at the trial; might be the only one in town to own a photo album (and not Alex Quorian?).
  • Arvin Flint – skipper of the doubting Thomas; former constable
  • Andrew Kieley – child in the church
  • Lucas Wyatt – child in the church
  • Sophie Aster – child in the church
  • Carson Synge – child in the church
  • Emma Shore – child in the church
  • Petrus Dollard – child in the church
  • Sally Barrens – child in the church
  • Marni Corbett – child in the church
  • Arden Corbette – child in the church
  • Philomene Slater – child in the church
  • Chester Parmalee – child in the church

As an aside, I found it shocking that they ate puffins considering my only history with the bird is the conservation effort and subsequent tourist opportunity to see them nest.

Lines I really liked, “The eeriest thing about fate, it seems to me, is how you try to deny it even when it’s teaching you to kiss” (p 11) and “Nowadays, people have to travel to get important memories” (p 35).

Author fact: you would never know Howard Norman was born in Toledo, Ohio.

Book trivia: Bird Artist is the first in a trilogy. This is the only book I am reading for the Challenge.

Nancy said: Pearl said The Bird Artist is on her bookshelf and that she couldn’t imagine traveling to Newfoundland without reading it first. Of the trilogy, Pearl said The Bird Artist was the best. Finally, she included it in her list of books “not necessarily instructive on What Mother Ought Not to Do” (Book Lust p 160).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Newfoundland” (p 153). Bird Artist can also be found in abunch of place in Book Lust. First, in the chapter called “Canadian Fiction” (p 51), then in the chapter called “Mothers and Sons” (p 161), and in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade (1990s)” (p 179).


Villains Who Snapped My Back

Nazzareno, A.H. The Villains Who Snapped My Back. 2022.

Reason read: As a member of the Early Review program for LibraryThing, I occasionally review books. Mostly memoirs and first novels.

Villain or villains is Nazzareno’s favorite word. Never mind it is in the title of his medical memoir and in the title of almost every chapter. He uses it to describe a postal route, ghosts, drudgery, a devil’s march, various entities, word repetition, cartoon characters, culprits, his commute, and sheep…to name a few. A cackle is villainous. There are assassin-dream villains. Look out for the wrath of villains. They consume his existence. Villains rig the game, villains mutate, villians play tricks, villains effed with his world, villains just show up, villains take extended coffee breaks, villains toss dynamite, villains are picking pocks, villains are catching up, villains get cocky, villains collaborate, villains are addicted, villains are made from mattresses, villains are subtle and insiduous. They are shaped like sausages. Hmmm…There is a number one villain (and I’m still trying to figure out how that one outranks all the others) yet Nazzareno asks at one point, “who are the villains?” I thought he knew because there seem to be so many of them. He would like to disband the villains, evade the villains, use Mormons and marijuna to deter villains; I could go on and on.
I have lost all sense of time when I read Nazzareno. The timeline bounces and stories are jumbled. Casinos, mattresses, a car accident, repotting a tree, snowmobiling in Maine with the in-laws, buying different vehicles. A random turkey on his mail route. Maybe he is trying to figure out just when the back problems started. Was it the car seat not being comfortable enough or that time he slid off the roof when trying to avoid an ice dam? Or the time he had to bury the cat in the yard? If I had a dollar for every time he mentioned the student loan…
Odly enough, my favorite parts are when he is describing his beloved southwest. I felt for him when a goverment job lands him and his partner in Virginia, or hvaing to shovel snow off a roof in Massachusetts, far away from the deserts of Arizona. If you know a happy place, be there now.

Book trivia: The Villains Who Snapped My Spine includes an illustration of he Cursed Lincoln.

Author fact: Nazzareno is represented by a grainy image at the end of the book.

Playlist: Modest Mouse, Mozart, “The Minute Waltz”, and Matt Bellamy’s “Exogenesis: Symphony”.


Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

Simonson, Helen. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand: a Novel. Random House, 2011.

Reason read: August is Friendship month. The relationship that blossoms between Major Pettigrew and Mrs. Ali is beautiful.

Major Pettigrew is all about decorum, politeness, morality, honor, admiration, civility, loyalty, proper behavior. He shies away from anything sordid or not prudent. He has an obligation to society to be an upstanding citizen. So, what does it mean when he starts a relationship with a widow the village of Edgecomb would frown upon? Even moreso, this woman has a nephew who had a child out of wedlock! Talk about inpropiety!
Pettigrew is so uptight he has a thing for feet bare or in damp socks, especially if they happen to be on his floors. As an aside, it is difficult to read about the elderly being bullied about by their snotty offspring.
At the heart of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is the beauty of friendship, but it is also about moral standards and how being able to bridge differences can be a virtue.

Lines I loved, “A letter unposted ina huge burden” (p 194), “Perhaps home is mroe precious to those who leave” (p 362),

Author fact: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is Simonson’s first novel.

Book trivia: my copy of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand included a reader’s guide, a conversation with Helen Simonson, and a reading group list of topics for discussion.

Playlist: “Greensleeves”

Nancy said: Pearl mentioned Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand as an example of who would like another book, one that actually takes place in Poland.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Polish Up Your Polish” (p 182). Because it has nothing to do with Poland I removed it from the master Challenge list.


Time Traveling to 1982: Reliving a Very Special Year

Hayward, Duncan. L. Time Traveling to 1982: Reliving a Very Special Year. Independent Publisher, 2022.

Reason read: I was 13 in the summer of 1982. I experienced my first true love that year. It was my last full year at home before I went to boarding school. I chose to review this book for the Early Review program because in my mind, 1982 was indeed a special year.

Confessional: I was looking forward to reading Time Traveling to 1982 because there are times I wish I could time travel back to the year of my first romance, my last year living at home, my first year of being a teenager. I can remember nearly everything about that year: the politics, the fashion, the food, the music (especially the music), and the sports. The only elements of entertainment I wasn’t “up” on were movies and television because I grew up without either.
Time Traveling was a disappointment. I was hoping for a thorough “reliving” of 1982. That would include fashion trends (hello neon), food (diet coke and onion soup mix, anyone?), sports of both genders (Steffi Graff!), along with the arts: books, music, theater, movies, dance. Beyond being more inclusive, I wished Time Traveling included more personal anecdotes. Why was 1982 a special year to Hayward? Beyond writing this for a friend turning forty, what does the author hold dear about 1982? I just had a thought. Was Hayward so selective because everything mentioned in Time Traveling was important to this friend and to hell with the rest of it?
What I did appreciate was the photography and the attempt at being international. I say attempt because, again, the thoroughness was just not there. Why include certain countries and exclude others?
Did this satisfy my desire to return to 1982? Partly. I had a good laugh remembering Ozzy’s antics with a bat and cried when reminded of James Brady getting shot in the head during the assassination attempt on President Regan (a detail not mentioned in Hayward’s recap of 1982). I was only thirteen but both of those events had a lasting impact on me. I felt sorry for the bat and the brain damaged Brady.


Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

Flagg, Fannie. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. McGraw Hill, 1987.

Reason read: August is Friendship month.

After reading Fried Green Tomatoes you will swear you just made a whole bunch of new and memorable friends. The characters will stay with you long after the last page. At the heart of Fried Green Tomatoes is the story of a friendship between two women. Mrs. Threadgoode, living out her old age in a nursing home, befriends Evelyn who is only there to visit her ailing mother. Held captive by the incessant chatter of Mrs. Threadgoode, middle aged and weary Evelyn is introduced to 1930s Whistle Stop, Alabama and its ecclectic community. The more Mrs. Threadgoode talks, the more Evelyn wants to know what happened next. She begins to visit more and more, bringing gifts each time. Between the present day nursing home and the flashbacks is Dot Weems and her weekly “Whistle Stop Bulletin” full of town gossip and humor. Despite its feel good narrative, startling examples of bigotry and violence are a reality. The very real thorns among the roses. But, back to the heart of Fried Green Tomatoes – the characters: Tomboy Idgie Threadgoode was by far my favorite. She is passionate, wild, and carries a great sense of humor and love in her heart.

Author fact: I had to look this up to confirm Fannie Flagg was an actress, screenwriter, director, comedienne, as well as author.

Book trivia: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe was made into a well-known movie starring Kathy Bates as Evelyn and Jessica Tandy as Ninny Threadgoode.

Playlist: Art Tatum’s “Red Hot Pepper Stomp”, Bessie Smith’s “I Aint Got Nobody”, “Big Rock Candy Mountain”, “Buffalo Gal, Won’t You Come Out Tonight?”, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Ethel Waters, Hank Williams, “I’m going Home on the Morning Train”, “I’m in Love with the Man in the Moon”, the Inkspots, “In the Baggage Car Ahead”, “Jingle Bells”, “Life is Just a Bowlful of Cherries”, “Listen to the Mockingbird”, “Nola”, “On the Good Ship Lollipop”, “Red Sails in the Sunset”, “Sheik of Araby”, “Smoke Rings”, “Stars Fell on Alabama”, “Sweet By and By”, “Tuxedo Junction”, “Wedding March”, “When I Get to Heaven, I’m Gonna Sit Down and Rest Awhile”, and “White Birds in Moonlight”.

Nancy said: Pearl mentioned Fried Green Tomatoes as another book exploring women’s friendships.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Women’s Friendships” (p 247). Also in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Southern Friend Fiction: Alabama” (p 205).


Confederacy of Dunces

Toole, John. Kennedy. A Confederacy of Dunces. New York: Grove Press, 1980.

Reason read: Why was this book on my list? I completely forgot. Probably something having to do with Hurricane Katrina.

Confederacy of Dunces is like cilantro: either you love it and you want it on anything and everything, or you hate it and you think it tastes like soap; you can’t come within ten feet of it. Meet Ignatius J Reilly, the trumpet and lute playing, obese and unemployed, lazy and insolent video gamer still living with his mother at thirty years old. He truly is the master of the deadly sin of sloth.
Reading Confederacy of Dunces was like playing the Untangle Me Game. You know, the one you play with string. Take twenty extremely long pieces of string, tangle them all around a room and then have twenty people chose an end to each piece of string. They must try to crawl over and under one another in an effort to untangle the mess. There are usually prizes at the other end of each string. Trying to follow the plot of Confederacy of Dunces was like trying to crawl under someone with extremely bad body odor in the hopes your entanglement will wind its way far, far away from the offending smell. Except. There was no prize at the end. I didn’t get it. In addition, I have a low tolerance for repetition and Confederacy is redundant on multiple levels. I will say, the best part of Confederacy was the culture of New Orleans. It lived and breathed like an unintended character. The parts about New Orleans I laughed about.

Line I liked, “When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip” (p 6). Okay. Funny.

Author fact: John Kennedy Toole at thirty-one committed suicide in a remote field. Maybe he was too much like Ignatius and couldn’t find his way to success.

Book trivia: Many different people have tried to make A Confederacy of Dunces into a movie. I don’t think it has happened yet.

Nancy said: Pearl said that A Confederacy of Dunces is an example of “What Mothers Ought Not to Do” (p 160). She also called it a “raucous tragicomedy” (p 168).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Mothers and Sons” (p 160) and again in the chapter called “New Orleans” (p 168).


Friends and Heroes

Manning, Olivia. Friends and Heroes. New York: New York Review Books, 1966.

Reason read: to finish the series started in June in honor of the Bosnian War.

When we catch up with the newlyweds, Guy and Harriet Pringle, they have escaped the Balkans to Athens, Greece. World War II is ramping up. Mussolini is ever encroaching yet the Greeks refuse to believe the Italians could invade them. No! Not them! In the midst of a global conflict, the Pringle marriage is also at conflict. Harriet still hungers for Guy’s attention. It’s a little off-putting how needy she is. Having escaped Bucharest Harriet believes her husband will finally put her first. She is not the outsider in Greece as she was in the Balkans. However, Guy continuously lives for the undivided attention of his students no matter where he is relocated. As an unemployed lecturer, he fills his time putting on plays with his admiring students and friends. He is so preoccupied with their rapt attention he doesn’t notice or care that his wife slips away for long walks. In truth, he often encourages it. His continual pawning her off to other companions soon leads to her actively seeking out a new crush. The Pringle marriage is so trying that I wanted her to go with the man who seemed to love her back.
This being the third installment of the Balkan Trilogy, many characters remain. Yakimov and his greed end up in Greece. I found his character to be an exaggerated caricature: always hungry and riling people. But speaking of characters, Manning is able to make all of her characters give a political commentary on World War II without having the rely of detailed descriptions. It is all in their dialogue.

Quotes to quote, “He only had to arrive to take a step away from her” (p 654), “No one would dance while friends and brothers and lovers were at the war” (p 657), and “She told herself that animals were the only creatures that could be loved without any reservation at all” (p 962).

Author fact: Manning lived the life of Friends and Heroes. She and her husband spent the war years in Rumania before escaping to Greece and then Egypt.

Book trivia: Friends and Heroes could be a stand-alone novel, but is best read as the finale of the Balkan Trilogy.

Playlist: “Tipperary,” “Yalo, Yalo,” “Down By the Seaside,” “Clementine,” “Bells Rang Again,” and “Anathema,”

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about Friends and Heroes. It’s not mentioned at all.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Good Reads, Decade by Decade (1960s).


Lindbergh

Berg, Scott A. Lindbergh. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1998.

Reason: Charles Lindbergh died in the month of August – read in his memory.

From the moment Charles Lindbergh watched the Aeronautical Trials at Fort Meyer in June of 1912, he was hooked on planes and flying. Watching the maneuvers sparked his young mind’s imagination. Fast forward fifteen years and May 21st, 1927 is a date for the record books. It is the date Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, nonstop between America and Europe.
As an aside, I think it’s fantastic that Lindbergh made the Spirit of St. Louis trip in 33 hours, 30 minutes and 30 seconds. That’s one for the numerophiles. From that moment on Lindbergh became a global sensation. Like a folk hero, dozens of songs and poetry were written for and about him. A dance was created in his name. People wrote books and plays about his achievement and clamored to have a piece of his fame for their very own. For men and women alike, touching him was like experiencing nirvana. To talk to him was like seeing the face of God. He was that famous.
But Charles Lindbergh was not just a pilot. Flying aside, he became interested in finding a way to transplant body organs safely. He became interested in Anne Morrow, enough to marry her and have a son. Thus began Lindbergh’s second bout with unwanted notoriety. When his first born son was kidnapped and killed the entire world was rapt with the horrific drama. Every update had people sitting on the edge of their seats. How could this happen to a famous colonel? When the tragedy had come to its terrible conclusion Lindbergh wanted to give up all aspects of aviation. It all led to publicity. The fame and notoriety got to be too much. Then came the Louise Brooks-like slide into scandal. The world was positioned for another Great War and this time Lindbergh was making headlines for all the wrong reasons. He had been enamored with the Germans for their ingenuity for a long time, but siding with them at this tumultuous time was the absolute wrong move. Berg’s biography of Lindbergh is thorough and compelling through the good, the bad and the ugly.

As another aside, Berg reports Anne’s mother, Elizabeth Morrow, was a “prime exemplar of someone who devoted her life to public service through volunteerism.” That’s all well and good, but if my annual income from only interest and dividends from stocks and bonds was approximately $300,000 (in 1930s dollars), I too would be spending a great deal of time volunteering. If I didn’t need to punch a time clock to pay my bills what else could I do with the hours of my day?

Author fact: Berg was the first and only writer to have been given unrestricted access to the Lindbergh archives.

Book trivia: Lindbergh includes three sections of black and white photographs.

Playlist: “Star-Spangled Banner,” “Marseillaise,” “When Lindy Comes Home,” “Der Lindberghflug,” “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” and “Eternal Light,”

Nancy said: Pearl points out Lindbergh contains a beautiful and moving chapter on Lindbergh’s flight.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Flying Above the Clouds” (p 89).


Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Lawrence, D.H. Lady Chatterley’s Lover. New York: Signet Classics, 1959.

Reason read: Let’s talk about sex.

You know a book is trouble when it’s published privately in Italy in 1928 and again in France a year later. It wasn’t published openly to the masses until 1960 when it was promptly banned across the world. The United States, Canada, Australia, India, and Japan all found fault with it. Finally, when it was at the center of a 1960 British obscenity trial, things came to a head. No pun intended. Not really.
Who doesn’t know this story? Lady Chatterley is an attractive upper-class woman married to an equally handsome man who happens to be paralyzed from the waist down. Connie is young, spoiled, and has certain…needs. Her husband says he understands, but a man and wife’s varying perceptions of the same marriage are striking. Clifford Chatterley doesn’t really understand the resentments of his wife. A poignant scene is when Connie watches a mother hen protect her eggs and feels empty. She wants a child. She wants a lover. She finds solace in the gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors, who lives on the grounds. His cottage is a short distance from the estate…It is the classic tale of class differences. Lawrence goes a bit further by exploring themes of industrialism (Clifford wants to modernize mining with new technology) and mind-body psychology (the struggle between the heart and mind when it involves sexuality, especially when it is illicit in nature). The ending is ambiguous, as typical of Lawrence’s work, but it ends with hope.

As an aside, I would have liked more insight from Connie’s sister, Hilda. Hilda helped Connie have her affair even though she sided with Clifford Chatterley. Another aside, I have often wondered how many people self-pleasured themselves with Lady Chatterley or her lover. Wink.

Lines I liked, “What the eye doesn’t see and the mind doesn’t know doesn’t exist” (p 18) and “If I could sleep with my arms round you, the ink could stay in the bottle” (p 282). Sigh. So romantic.

Author fact: Lawrence went into self-imposed exile because he refused to stop writing about the human condition. His critics couldn’t handle the truth and often banned or censored his work. Lady Chatterley is rumored to be autobiographical in some places.

Book trivia: The genre for Lady Chatterley’s Lover is literary erotica and yet some libraries (including my own) catalog this in the juvenile section. True story. I happen to be reading the Signet Classic edition which is the only complete unexpurgated version authorized by the Lawrence estate. According to the back cover, “no other edition is entitled to make this claim.”

Nancy said: Pearl included Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the list of “stellar” examples of literary erotica.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Sex and the Single Reader” (p 218).


Hard Eight

Evanovitch, Janet. Hard Eight. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2002.

Reason read: to continue the series started in January in honor of Female Mystery month.

It is hard for me to dislike Stephanie Plum. No matter how bumbling she is when she tries to catch a fugitive, I have to laugh at her antics. No matter how conflicted she is about the attentions from two different men, I root for her. No matter how food motivated she can be, I like her. I can’t help but bond with a girl who likes peanut butter, potato chip, and pickle sandwiches as I do. But. But! But, as a bounty hunter, she sucks. She still sucks eight books later. Much like trying to collar Eddie DeChooch in Seven Up, Stephanie can’t seem to capture Andy Bender. She goes through four sets of handcuffs trying to bring him in.
A more serious second “job” involves a child custody case. Hired by her neighbor to find a missing granddaughter and great granddaughter, Stephanie inadvertently gets herself caught up in a dangerous battle with a psychopath. She isn’t a detective, but doesn’t dare say no to the family who has lived next door to her parents for years. Even if it means finding snakes in her apartment, tarantulas in her Honda, or a dead man on her couch, Stephanie (and sidekick Lula) go on the hunt for a woman running from a nasty divorce. She even gets her two love interests, Morelli and Ranger, involved in the adventure.
Here are the consistent details: Rex the hamster is still alive and kicking. He has to move to Stephanie’s parent’s house when her apartment becomes a crime scene (again). Grandma Mazur is also alive and kicking. She doesn’t frequent the funeral homes looking for a date as much in Hard Eight, but she’s still feisty. Ranger is still a mystery but Stephanie is slowly cracking that nut. She had sex in the bat cave.

Lines that made me laugh, “”Home is supposed to be the safe place, I said to Morelli. Where do you go when your home doesn’t feel safe anymore?” (p 163). I laughed because Stephanie’s worry is so ironic. Her apartment gets broken into on a regular basis and only now she isn’t feeling safe?

Author fact: I just found out Evanovich has the same birthday as my sister. Interesting.

Book trivia: Hard Eight sets up the relationship between Stephanie’s sister, Valerie, and divorce lawyer Albert Kloughn.

Nancy said: Pearl said Evanovitch’s series couldn’t be called mysteries. You’ll laugh too much.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Ms. Mystery” (p 169).


Olive Kitteridge

Strout, Elizabeth. Olive Kitteridge. New York: Random House, 2008.

Reason read: In Rockland, Maine, there is a festival dedicated to lobsters. Read Olive Kitteridge in honor of the critters.

Comprised of thirteen short stories with varying narratives, Strout cleverly tells the story of Olive Kitteridge. Olive is lurking in most of each connecting tale. Sometimes characters gossip about her, like in the story called “Winter Concert.” In the first story “Pharmacy” Olive’s husband, Henry Kitteridge, doesn’t seem to have a happy life since he retired from his old fashioned pharmacy. Olive is presented as a woman who doesn’t suffer fools easily. She shows the world an angry and proud face most of the time. I think they call it “Yankee stoicism.” Other stories:

  • “Incoming Tide” – Olive is present when a woman tries to commit suicide.
  • “The Piano Player” – Angela O’Meara plays the piano for ungrateful guests.
  • “A Little Burst” – Olive’s only son is getting married to a woman she doesn’t like.
  • “Starving” – Harmon is starving in his marriage while he befriends a girl with anorexia.
  • “A Different Road” – a couple are victims of a crime by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • Winter Concert” – A couple attends a concert where the wife learns of her husband’s secret rendezvous.
  • “Tulips” – bitterness.
  • “A Basket of Trips” – a death cuts a marriage short.
  • “Ship in a Bottle” – a girl is stood up on her wedding day.
  • “Security” – Olive tries to visit her son in New York; a story about expectations.
  • “Criminal” – the story of a neurotic kleptomaniac.
  • “River” – My favorite story of the the bunch. Olive is a widow and learning to be polite.

Author fact: Strout also wrote Amy & Isabelle and Abide with Me. Both are on my Challenge list. I read Amy & Isabelle in 2007 and I read Abide with Me in 2013.

Book trivia: Olive Kitteridge won a Pulitzer in 2008.

Playlist: “Good Night, Irene,” “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “The First Noel,” “We Shall Overcome, “”Fly Me to the Moon,” “My Way,” “Feelings,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” Beethoven, “Fools Rush In,” “Whenever I Feel Afraid,” Phish, Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia, “Some Enchanted Evening,” “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” and Debussy.

Nancy said: Pearl said Olive Kitteridge would be an excellent choice for a book club.

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