Brittain, Vera. Testament of Youth: the Autobiographical Study of the Years 1900 – 1925. New York: MacMillan Company, 1937.
Reason read: The United States entered World War I on April 6th, 1917. Additionally, I needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge in the category of historical event.
Confessional: this took me a long time to finish.
The world can thank Vera Brittain for keeping a detailed diary during World War I. Through her writings, Brittain is able to not only give a personal account of how the war changed her life, but the impact the conflict had on the world at large around her. When she says the war “smashed her youth” and “interrupted her personal plans” you get the sense of the level of personal destruction the violence left in its wake. She led a sheltered life in England, never leaving the country until she was twenty-one. She had both a brother and a fiancé serve in the war. Through their letters and poems, how they were affected by the conflict represents how a good majority of the soldiers coped with battle. In order to feel closer to her brother and fiancé, Vera volunteered to darn socks, but as the war dragged on, the desire to “do something more” led her to sign up as a probationer in a hospital. There she had an up close and personal view of war’s terrible price. There is a growing sense of dread when Brittain describes reading the list of casualties and not having a single word from loved ones. The war matures Brittain. At the start of the conflict she naively hoped Roland would suffer a war wound so they could see each other. After some time changing the dressings of the amputees Brittain realizes she couldn’t wish that kind of horror on anyone.
Brittain’s autobiography continues after the war has ended and the struggle to return to civilian life becomes a reality. She has lost everyone she loved, friends and family alike.
As an aside, it is unclear if Vera was agnostic before the war or if the tragedies in France solidified an already growing idea idea.
Quotes to quote, “Someone is getting hell, but it isn’t you – yet,” (p 150), “Truly war had made masochists of us all” (p 154), “Too angry and miserable to be shy any more, we clung together and kissed in forlorn desperation” (p 189), “The world was mad and we were all victims, that was the only way to look at it” (p 376) and “I was not the culprit, for I was still too deeply and romantically in love with a memory to have any appetite for sexual unorthodoxies, but I am not sure that I should have owned up if I had been” (p 328).
Here is the sentence that had the most profound effect on me, “I entirely failed to notice the assassination on the previous morning, of a European potentate whose name was unknown to me, in a Balkan town of which I had never heard” (p 85).
Author fact: Even though Brittain is best known for her autobiographies she was also an accomplished poet.
Book trivia: Brittain includes a great deal of poetry from several different poets. Testament of Youth was a Masterpiece Theater dramatic series present on PBS by WGBH in Boston.
Playlist: “Elizabeth’s Prayer,” “Jewel Song,” “Clair de Lune,” “Te Deum Patreum Colimus,” “L’Envoi,” “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” “If You Were the Only Girl in the World,” “We are Soldiers of the Queen, Me Lads,” “Good-bye Dolly, I Must Leave You,” “When the Heart is Young,” “Whisper and I Shall Hear,” “Distant Shore,” “Robert the Devil,” “Dreaming,” “The Vision of Salome,” “Elgar’s Lament for the Fallen,” Beethoven’s 7th Sonata, Verdi’s Requiem, Bram’s Requiem, “Sweet Early Violets,” “Down in the Forest,” “Auld Lang Syne,” “O Hel-, O Hel-“
Nancy said: Pearl called Testament of Youth “moving.” She also called it “One of the finest accounts ever written of World War I” (More Book Lust p 155).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “World War I Nonfiction” (p 251). Again in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Living Through War” (p 154).
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).
When I look back at August my first thought is what the hell happened? The month went by way too fast. Could the fact that I saw the Grateful Dead, Natalie Merchant (4xs), Trey Anastasio, Sirsy, and Aerosmith all in the same month have anything to do with that? Probably. It was a big month for traveling (Vermont, Connecticut, NYC) and for being alone while Kisa was in Charlotte, Roanoke, Erie, Chicago, Indianapolis, and Colorado. And. And, And! I got some running done! The treadmill was broken for twenty days but in the last eleven days I eked out 12.2 miles. Meh. It’s something. Speaking of something, here are the books:
- African Queen by C.S. Forester
- Antonia Saw the Oryx First by Maria Thomas
- Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object by Laurie Colwin
- Strong Motion by Jonathan Frazen
- Beauty by Robin McKinley
- Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes
- American Chica by Marie Arana
- Florence Nightingale by Mark Bostridge
- Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson
- Die Trying by Lee Child
- Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov
Early Review cleanup:
- Filling in the Pieces by Isaak Sturm
- Open Water by Mikael Rosen
Arana, Marie. American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood. New York: Dial Press, 2001.
Reason read: August is called the selfish month by some. Nancy Pearl called her autobiography chapter in More Book Lust “Me, Me, Me” which made me think to read American Chica in August.
Marie Arana grew up in an intercultural family with a South American father born in Peru, and a North American mother. Her parents met in Boston, Massachusetts of all places. This all sounds exotic and fun, but it wasn’t always easy for Arana to know how to fit in on either side of the cultural divide.
The very first sentence of American Chica sets the entire tone of Arana’s memoir, “The corridors of my skull are haunted” (p 5). Indeed, Arana’s family history hides ghosts and her story prods proverbial skeletons out of closets. I won’t give away the details but there was one moment in Arana’s story that had me holding my breath. She has a brush with impropriety that is tinged with the guilty question of did I bring this on myself? Is it somehow my fault? I could relate.The most poignant pieces of Arana’s writing was when she was remembering her innocence; the times when prejudice didn’t darken her childhood.
Other lines I liked, “It is more than a simple resentment, less than an all-out war” (p 63).
Author fact: According to the back flap of American Chica, Arana served on the board of directors of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the National Book Critics Circle.
Book trivia: Arana’s memoir does not include any photographs except a family portrait in the beginning.
Nancy said: Pearl called American Chica “a beautifully written memoir” (More Book Lust p 167).
BookLust Twist: As mentioned earlier, from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Me, Me, Me: Autobiographies” (p 167).
Sturm, Izaak. Filling in the Pieces: a Survival Story of the Holocaust. New York: Gefen Publishing, 2019.
Reason read: an Early Review book from LibraryThing.
The expectations put forth to the reader in Rabbi Hier’s introductions are many. There is the promise we won’t be immune to heartbreak and triumph. We will be powerfully reminded of the atrocities of World War II. We will be provided with a clear-eyed view of human behavior throughout this disturbing time. We will have insight into both the world of the perpetrator and survivor alike. We will be reminded that the Holocaust must be remembered and not denied, forgotten, or repeated. We will learn from the author’s persistence to survive. Above all else, we will be touched. All of that is true. Expectations such as these and then-some are met in Sturm’s courageous words.
Introduction by Rabbi Marvin Hier.
Preface by Moish (Mark) Sturm, Izaak’s son.
Favorite element of the book: There is an attention to detail as if history depends on Sturm getting it exact (like the precise year of his birth). Footnotes are plentiful.
Book trivia: the photographs are generous, both in color and black and white.
Confessional: for years and years my senses would avoid anything involving Hitler and the atrocities of World War II. I didn’t want to see, smell, taste, feel, or hear anything about that horrific time. Stories of lamps made from human skin would keep my young imagination reeling as my heart beat out of my chest in pure terror. I have reoccurring dreams of bombs being unceremoniously and carelessly dropped over Monhegan. I still wake in the middle of the night listening to the drone of engines in the sky. Nightmares still creep across my eyelids and I often wake up in a cold sweat thoroughly convinced someone could be coming to take my teeth with pliers at any minute.
So June went by lightning fast, as I expected. Had good shows with Imagine Dragons and Dead and Company. Spent quality time with family and friends. Ran next to nothing for miles. But, the books! Thanks to not running (still) and all the travel I was able to get a lot of reading done…
- Confessing a Murder by Nicholas Drayson (EB & print)
- Stories of Alice Adams by Alice Adams (EB & print)
- Afterlife by Paul Monette (EB & print)
- Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason (AB)
- Six Days of War by Michael Oren (print) – confessional: did not finish
- Cactus Eaters by Dan White (print)
- I Dreamed of Africa by Kuki Gallman (print)
- Mindfulness Meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn (AB)
- Pearl Cove by Elizabeth Lowell (EB & print)
- Envoy From Mirror City by Janet Frame (EB & print)
- “Xingu” by Edith Wharton (EB)
- “Verlie I Say Unto You” by Alice Adams (EB)
- “Roses, Rhododendrons” by Alice Adams (EB)
- Choose to Matter: Being Courageously and Fabulously YOU by Julie Foudy
Frame, Janet. The Envoy From Mirror City. New York: George Braziller, 1985.
Frame, Janet. The Envoy From Mirror City. New York: George Braziller, 1985. http://archive.org/details/envoyfrommirrorc00fram
Reason read: to finish the series started in April in honor of New Zealand’s Anzac Day.
As a writer, Janet Frame branches out beyond New Zealand in Envoy from Mirror City. Personally, she finds her womanhood. I considered this reading timely because of the focus Frame gave to mental illness. (I was reading this before and after the suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade.) I found it interesting that Frame got herself checked into a psychiatric facility so she could learn “the truth” about her illness and was somewhat disappointed to learn she was not considered schizophrenic. She had been using her illness as a shield against normalcy and everyday life. It was if naivete was catching up with her and she had to learn the coming of age ways of adulthood.
As an aside, there are a lot of chapters for such a short little book.
Lines I liked, “In my first foreign country I still wore the old clothes of prejudice” (p 5), “Nothing would make him change his mind while he was afraid” (p 16), “Strangely, I cherished my ignorance and never inquired” (p 67), and lastly, “Although I did not accept El Vivi’s ring, I did not reject him” (p 86).
Author fact: Frame had all of her books published by George Braziller.
Book trivia: Like the other volumes in Frame’s autobiography, there are no photographs in The Envoy from Mirror City.
Nancy said: nothing specific about Envoy.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Kiwis Forever!: New Zealand in Print” (p 123).
June is going to go by lightning fast. For starters, there is a concert in Bangor, Maine that I cannot wait for! Then, a concert at home. After that, a week later, an art show reception for my talented sister’s work. Then, a vacation with my best friend (Maine for the third weekend in a row). I will have many opportunities to read. Hence, the huge list:
- Confessing a Murder by Nicholas Drayson – in honor of the first month of boating weather (EB & print).
- Stories of Alice Adams by Alice Adams – June is short story month (EB & print).
- Afterlife by Paul Monette – in honor of gay and lesbian pride month (EB & print).
- Jar City by Arnaldur Andridason – National Icelandic Day is in June (AB).
- Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Middle East by Michael B. Oren – the Six Day War started in June.
- Cactus Eaters: How I Lost My Mind and Almost Found Myself by Dan White – June is national hiking month.
- I Dreamed of Africa by Kuki Gallman – in honor of Gallman’s birth month.
- Mindfulness Meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn – in honor of Zinn’s birth month.
- Pearl Cove by Elizabeth Lowell – to continue the series started in April in honor of Lowell’s birth month.
- Envoy From Mirror City by Janet Frame – to finish the series started in April in honor of New Zealand’s Anzac Day.
What about May? May was a month of personal disappointments and private pain. I weathered all without much fanfare. Running was nonexistent but I can’t say the same for books:
- Landfall: a Channel Story by Nevil Shute (EB)
- Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (AB, EB & print)
- Martin Sloane by Michael Redhill (EB & print)
- Bruised Hibiscus by Elizabeth Nunez (EB & print)
- Adrian mole: the Cappuccino Years by Sue Townsend (EB & print)
- Into Thin Air: a Personal Account … by Jon Krakauer
- Jade Island by Elizabeth Lowell (EB & print)
- Last Seen in Massilia by Steven Saylor (EB & print)
- Angel at My Table by Janet Frame (EB & print)
Early Review from LibraryThing:
- 1968: — edited by — Aronson
Added – Plays:
- Medea by Euripides ~ in honor of the best time to go to Greece.
Frame, Janet. Angel at My Table: An Autobiography: Volume Two. New York: George Braziller, 1984
Reason read: to continue the autobiography started in April in honor of New Zealand’s Anzac Day.
Angel at My Table being the second volume in Janet Frame’s autobiography, covers her unwillingness to become a teacher, a myriad of mental health struggles, and Frame’s continued desire to impress people as a “true” poet. Despite being at the University for a teaching career Frame was dead set against becoming an educator. When it came time for her to be observed in the classroom she simply excused herself and walked out, never to return again. All she wanted to do was write and it was her ability to do so that ultimately saved her. Scheduled to have an lobotomy, her book, The Lagoon, a volume of short stories, was published just in time for her to receive a stay of operation. From there Frame floundered trying to make a living until she met Frank Sargeson. As a fellow writer he was able to develop a partnership and mentorship that ultimately shaped Frame’s future. At the end of Angel at My Table we leave Frame as she is ready to embark on a new journey; leaving New Zealand for the first time.
Lines to like, “Nola suffered from asthma and the complication of being in a family of brilliant beautiful people” (p 110) and “There is a freedom born for the acknowledgement of greatness in literature, as if one gave away what one desired to keep, and in giving, there is new space cleared for growth, an onrush of a new season beneath a secret sun” (p 153).
Author fact: When Frame died obituaries called her New Zealand’s “best known but least public” writer.
Book trivia: Angel at My Table was made into a movie in 1990, starring Kerry Fox.
Nancy said: Not much. She just mentioned that Frame’s second book was made into a movie.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Kiwis Forever!: New Zealand in Print” (p 123).
One of my all time favorite 10,000 Maniacs songs is “The Painted Desert” off the album, Our Time in Eden. If you have never heard it, the premise is simple. A couple is trying to have a long distance relationship. Or…one of them is anyway…While one is off in the Southwest, the other waits patiently for the time when he? she? can join the other. But, soon the patience tarnishes and the one left behind find themselves pleading, “I wanted to be there by May at the latest time. Isn’t that the plan we had or have you changed your mind? I haven’t heard a word from you since Phoenix or Tuscon. April is over. Can you tell how long before I can be there?” The underlying poison is that the partner has moved on and the answer to the question is “never.” How ironic.
Having said all that, April IS over. As far as the run is concerned, I begrudgingly ran a half mara and a 10k and despite not training for either, I am pleased with both races.
And I read a fair amount of books:
- Amber Beach by Elizabeth Lowell
- Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
- The Corner: a Year in the life of an Inner-City Neighborhood by David Simon and Edward Burns
- The Evolution of Everyday Objects by Henry Petroski
- Bogey Man by George Plimpton
- To the Is-Land: an Autobiography by Janet Frame
- Charmed by Nora Roberts
- The Venus Throw by Steven Saylor
- “Unexplorer” by Edna St. Vincent Millay
- “Travel” by Edna St. Vincent Millay
- “Wild Geese” by Edna St. Vincent Millay
- New and Collected Poetry by Czeslaw Milosz
- Deeply Grateful and Entirely Unsatisfied by Amanda Happe
Frame, Janet. To the Is-Land. New York: George Braziller, 1982.
Reason read: Anzac Day in New Zealand is celebrated in April. Janet Frame was born in New Zealand.
Janet Frame had written at least ten novels and a series of poetry over the course of her career before it seemed the natural next step to tell her autobiography. Her life story gave perspective to the fiction she had been writing for so many years. Why else does one assume his or her life story would be interesting to someone else, a complete stranger, if only to explain their actions or, in Frame’s case, her craft? To the Is-Land starts when Frame is a very young child in Dunedin, New Zealand. She recounts the trials and tribulations of growing up poor and longing to fit in. She found solace in writing and at the the end of To the Is-Land a poet starts to emerge.
As an aside, if you know my blogs you know I love to make connections to Natalie Merchant, no matter how far fetched. This time I came across a song Frame’s father used to sing, “Come for a trip in my airship…” Of course, Natalie sang a version of that for Stay Awake, a tribute to Disney music.
Quotes I thought worth mentioning, “I don’t attempt to search for the commonplace origins of such a feeling” (p 23), and only a few of you will get why this one is so funny, “””It could be his spine,” someone said, adding that they knew someone who’d been miraculously cured by a chiropractor who insisted that the answer was always in the spine” (p 99).
Author fact: Janet Frame started her career as a teacher. She only spent one year as an educator before deciding to become a writer. That takes guts!
Book trivia: To the Is-Land is part one of Frame’s autobiography and does not include any photography. Boo. If anything, I would have loved seeing the New Zealand landscape.
Nancy said: Janet Frame “is best known for her three-volume autobiography” (p 124).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Kiwis Forever!: New Zealand in Print” (p 123).
Yes, it is now April 4th and I am just getting to this. April is slowly becoming one of those coulda, woulda months. I was supposed to run nine miles on Sunday. Instead, I had Easter dinner with the family and chilled out. I could have run on Monday but it snowed and I had Cairo. Coulda, shoulda, woulda, didn’t. April is supposed to he a half marathon (and you can see how well the training is going) and a 10k one week later. Here are the books:
- Amber Beach by Elizabeth Lowell – in honor of Lowell’s birth month being in April.
- Zeitoun by Dave Eggers – in honor of April being the month Louisiana was founded.
- Bogey Man by George Plimpton – in honor of the PGA tour.
- Corner by David Simon – in honor of Maryland becoming a state in April.
- Evolution of Useful Things by Henry Petroski – in honor of April being Math, Science, and Technology month.
- Venus Throw by Steven Saylor – to continue the series started in March for Saylor’s birth month.
- Charmed by Nora Roberts – to continue the series started in February for Valentine’s Day.
- New and Collected Poetry by Czeslaw Milosz – to continue honoring Poetry Month
- A Few Figs From Thistles by Edna St. Vincent Millay – see above.
- “Wild Geese” by Edna St. Vincent Millay – see above.
If there is time:
- To the Is-Land by Janet Frame – in honor of Anzac Day in New Zealand.
- Jargoon Pard by Andre Norton (I had to request this one through interlibrary loan so I’m not sure it will be read in time to be in the April category.
March was one of those weird months. A few Nor’Easters. A few miles run. A few books read. We had two school closings in back to back weeks so that helped with the reading, but not the run. I finished the St. Patrick’s Day Road Race just two minutes off my time last year. Considering I didn’t train (again) I’m alright with that. There’s always next year! Here are the books:
- The Good Son by Michael Gruber
- Roman Blood by Steven Saylor
- White Man’s Grave by Richard Dooling
- Witch World by Andre Norton
- Cards of Identity by Nigel Dennis
- All the Way Home by David Giffels
- Slide Rule by Nevil Shute
Series Continuations –
- Coast of Incense by Freya Stark – to finished the series started in honor of her birth month in January.
- Entranced by Nora Roberts
Early Review for Librarything –
- Oneiron by Laura Lindstedt (started)
- Infinite Hope – Anthony Graves
- New and Collected Poetry by Czeslaw Milosz (not finished)
Fun – I’m not finished with either fun book so I won’t list them here.
Shute, Nevil. Slide Rule: the Autobiography of an Engineer. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1954.
Reason read: William Oughtred, the inventor of the slide rule, was born in March. Read in his honor.
Confessional: my father, being a man in love with boats and the ocean and nautical charts, taught me how to use a slide rule for navigation when I was really young. It was such a long time ago I doubt I could plot a course these days, though.
This is supposed to be Nevil Shute’s autobiography but I would say it is more a memoir about his career in aviation. He doesn’t delve into his personal life too deeply. There is nothing about his childhood, his marriage, becoming a father, or much of his writing career, for example. You don’t know much about his family life/childhood, how he met his wife, when he had children, or even how he became a writer in the first place. Slide Rule is more about Shute’s life in aviation; how he became a calculator for the firm of DeHavilland when they were designing rigid airships. What’s fascinating is his company was in competition with the government to build airbuses. After an airbus disaster Shute founded the company Airspeed, Ltd and had lukewarm success being profitable building private planes. At the start of World War II the nature of the business changed and Shute slowly started to withdraw emotionally from Airspeed. The memoir ends with him leaving Airspeed after being voted out by the board. Meanwhile, his career as an author was just starting to take flight.
Quotes I liked, “The happily married man with a large family is the test
pilot for me” (p 67), and “A man’s own experiences determine his opinions, of necessity” (p 140).
Author fact: Nevil’s full name is Nevil Shute Norway. He explains his reasons for using his Christian names alone in Slide Rule.
Book trivia: Slide Rule has a small sections of photographs, including a couple of the author.
Nancy said: Shute thought of himself as more of an engineer than a writer, according to Pearl.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “Nevil Shute: Too Good To Miss” (p 198).