Ada Blackjack

Niven, Jennifer. Ada Blackjack: a True Story of Survival in the Arctic. New York: Hyperion, 2003.

Reason read: Ear-marking the reindeer is an Arctic tradition that takes place in the summer.

Jennifer Niven calls Ada Blackjack a hero. I don’t think I would go that far. She didn’t save anyone’s life and her heroic deeds were limited to having the courage and resourcefulness to survive her unlikely predicament physically unscathed. I say unlikely because what would a impoverished and divorced 23 year old Inuit woman (a rumored prostitute) be doing on a potentially illegal expedition in the wilds of an Arctic island with four young white men and a cat? Desperate to find a husband and to make enough money to care for her oft-ill son, Ada signs on a seamstress with explorer Vilhjamur Stefansson’s mission to colonize barren Wrangel Island off the coast of Siberia. Using the theory of squatters’ rights, Stafansson sent four young men and six months worth of supplies to plant the British flag on what he thought was unclaimed land. He only sent them with six months of supplies because he was sure they could survive off the land once they had exhausted their stores. What could possibly go wrong in the “friendly” Arctic?
It’s not a plot spoiler to say that Ada was the only human to make it out alive (and yes, the cat survives, too). But, here’s where the story gets interesting. Stefansson vacillates between wanting to take all the credit for Ada’s survival and pretending he’s never heard of the woman. It’s what happens after the rescue that becomes the bigger story.

As an aside, I love the process of discovery. While Niven was researching her first book, The Ice Master she discovered Nome, Alaska native Ada Blackjack. Ada’s adventure intrigued Niven enough to prompt her to dig into Blackjack’s life story and ultimately, write a memoir about her expedition with four white men (and a cat) to Wrangel Island. To carry that idea of discovery a step further, after reading Ada Blackjack I found a documentary on her. I got caught up in her mystique, too.

Author fact: Niven also wrote The Ice Master which is on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: Ada Blackjack includes two wonderful sections of photographs. A handful of comments about the photos: the expedition cat, Vic, is fantastic. Milton Galle is a man’s man and my favorite photo is of Vic and Milton.  They were all good looking people.

Nancy said: If you like Krakauer or Junger, you will like Niven.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “To the Ends of the Earth: North and South” (p 231).


Jackie By Josie

Preston, Caroline. Jackie By Josie. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

Reason read: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was born in July; read in honor of her birth month.

Josie Trask is one neurotic woman…but she has a lot of heart. Hired to research the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis for a less-than-serious biographer, Josie moves back in her childhood Massachusetts home for the summer in order to be close to her source’s personal history. It’s right after Jackie O’s death and digging up the most private of Jackie’s dirt takes time. This means moving back in with an overbearing and alcoholic mother while contending with a typical three year old son, all on her own. Husband Peter has headed to California for a teaching job, carpooling with college friend, Monica. While Josie is trying to satisfy a constantly demanding employer and worrying about her absent husband, she is convinced her mother is dating a criminal and her husband is having an affair. As Josie digs deeper into Jackie’s life she can’t help but notice the similarities. What lessons can she learn from the life of a former First Lady?

Author fact: While Preston has written a bunch of books, Jackie by Josie is the only one I am readng for the Challenge.

Book trivia: Jackie by Josie is Preston’s first book.

Nancy said: Jackie By Josie was “wonderful reading, each in its own way” (More Book Lust, p 132). She goes on to say some books have more depth than others. I would think Jackie By Josie is one such book.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Just Too Good To Miss” (p 132). I keep wanting to add the word “Period” to it. As an aside, this could also have been listed in Pearl’s Maiden Voyages chapter.


Miss Lizzie

Satterthwait, Walter. Miss Lizzie. New York: International Polygonics, Ltd. 2000.

Reason read: Lizzie Borden was born in July; read in her honor.

Everyone remembers the rhyme about Lizzie Borden giving her parents a certain number of whacks. Everyone also knows she was found not guilty. But! She wasn’t found innocent either. So what happens when, thirty years later, another parent is found murdered in the exact same way and Lizzie just happens to be the neighbor living right next door? Coincidence? Amanda Burden is a teenager of thirteen and has befriended Miss Borden who has lived alone all this time. This is Amanda’s story.
Satterthwait keeps the tension tight in this clever whodunit. Amanda believes in Miss Lizzie’s innocence and yet Satterthwait is careful to leave a little room for doubt.
There were several things I found unusual about this plot. For starters, Amanda is, as I said, only thirteen years old and yet her father leaves Amanda with Miss Lizzie while he conducts business (and an affair) in Boston. Amanda has been keeping her friendship with Miss Lizzie a secret, so how or why would Mr. Burden trust his only daughter to the care of a woman who may or may not have murdered her parents? I don’t think it ruins the plot to say that I was even further confused when it was revealed Amanda’s father left his daughter to be the one to discover her stepmother’s body hacked to death. Who does that?

Quotes to quote, “Families are held together as much by what they do not say as by what they do” (p 86), and “Decades can pass sometimes, and even entire lives, before we forgive our parents their humanity” (p 316).

Author fact: Satterthwait has a sense of humor. His Amazon page says he was raised by wolverines because the wolves wouldn’t take him.

Nancy said: Miss Lizzie was one of the best biographical novels she’s read (Book Lust, p 37).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Biographical Novels” (p 37). As an aside, this could also be in the More Book Lust chapter called “Men Channeling Women” (p 166).


Zeitoun

Eggers, Dave. Zeitoun. New York: Vintage Books, 2009.

Reason read: Louisiana was founded in the month of April.

For the rest of the world, Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath of her horrible devastation are receding images in the rear view mirror; images replaced by other natural and man-made disasters of bigger and nastier proportions. To the rest of the world what happened in New Orleans is fast becoming a series of footnotes in history’s troubled narrative. But, for the people of New Orleans, the nightmare is far from over. Zeitoun is just one man’s story. A man who stayed to wait out the storm. A man who tried to help those in need wherever and however he could. A man caught up in racial profiling, prejudices, and fast-ignited bad judgements. There were hundred of stories just like his. Dave Eggers makes the story more interesting than run of the mill.

When it was all said and done, I had to wonder about Zeitoun’s character. Here was a man who stubbornly made his wife and child walk four hours one way on a beach to reach a rock formation he could see in the distance.
As an aside, I tried to not let the rest of Zeitoun’s public story change how I read Eggers’s book. Like everyone else, I Googled Zeitoun and found out about his violent behavior towards his wife and their legal battles. So sad.

Quotes to quote, “The winds were still many days from being relevant to his life” (p 24).

Author fact: Dave Eggers was born in Boston and is my age.

Book trivia: Oddly enough, even though there are photographs in Zeitoun they are of his family and not what everyone would expect, of the devastation in New Orleans.

Nancy said: Nancy outlines the basic plot of Zeitoun.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “News From N’Orleans” (p 155).


Library Week and the April Reads

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:

Fiction:

  • Amber Beach by Elizabeth Lowell – in honor of Lowell’s birth month being in April.

Nonfiction:

  • 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.

Series continuations:

  • 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.

Poetry:

  • 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.

January with the King’s Men

January started with my first official appointment to a chiropractor. I mentioned elsewhere that he wasn’t really confident he could put me back together, but that’s there and not here. Not being able to run has given me more time to read…much more than I realized. You can get a lot done with an extra 4-5 hours a week! With that being said, here are the books:

Fiction:

  • Clara Callan by Richard B. Wright. This story stayed with me for a really long time.
  • Tea From an Empty Cup by Pat Cadigan. I think I was most disappointed by this one because I saw the ending a mile away.
  • On the Beach by Nevil Shute. I listened to this on audio and I still can’t stop thinking about it.
  • Black Alibi by Cornell Woolrich. I read this one in a day.
  • Wake Up, Darlin’ Corey by M.K. Wren. Another really short book.
  • What Did It Mean? by Angela Thirkell. I gave up on this one after 120 pages. Boring!

Nonfiction:

  • Partisans: Marriage, Politics, and Betrayal Among the New York Intellectuals by David Laskin.
  • War Child by Emmanuel Jal. Probably the most raw and captivating story of the month. Read in a weekend.
  • Traveller’s Prelude by Freya Stark
  • Practicing History by Barbara Tuchman. No one does history like Barbara. (AB/print)
  • Last Cheater’s Waltz by Ellen Meloy. She has a wicked sense of humor.

Series continuations:

  • Mrs. Pollifax and the Golden Triangle by Dorothy Gilman. The last Pollifax mystery I will read.  Read in a day.

Early Reviews:

  • Brain Food: the Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Health by Lisa Mosconi. This took me a really long time to read. You may have seen it on other lists. There was just a lot to it.

 


Partisans

Laskin, David. Partisans: Marriage, Politics, and Betrayal Among the New York Intellectuals. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.

Reason read: January 26th is Spouse Day. Read in honor of the many different couplings in Partisans.

This is like a good gossip story. At the center are six women who ruled their lives without thought of public image or reputation. They were writers who lived before the age of feminism and railed against its confines. It was a compliment to be told “you write like a man.” They were allowed to have egos, be promiscuous, vicious, betraying…all without a second thought. If feminine wile got you somewhere, so much the better. These were the New York Intellectuals who slept with men indiscriminately, married or otherwise. At their center is the Partisan Review and everyone who was associated with the magazine. Probably the best known, Mary McCarthy sleeps with the editor of PR before marrying writer Edmund Wilson. Then there’s Jean Stafford who wrote for PR while married to Robert Lowell. When the two divorced Lowell went on to marry another PR insider, Elizabeth Hardwick. Allan Tate was married to Caroline Gordon but had an affair with Elizabeth Hardwick. Are you keeping track? Other intellectuals include Hannah Arendt and Diane Trilling. They had their own dramas as well.

Quotes to quote, “They certainly had no sense of sisterly comradeship; and yet they were keenly aware of what and how other women writers were doing and where they stood” (p 191).

Author fact: Laskin has written a bunch of other books. I am only reading Partisans for the Challenge.

Book trivia: Partisans includes a bunch of black and white photographs. Mary McCarthy dominates the selection with five photographs but Robert Lowell is a close second with four images. That would make sense with Mary McCarthy being the most successful out of the whole group.

Nancy said: Partisans “explores connections and differences among writers who were associated with Partisan Review magazine” (p 110). As an aside, I’m not sure why she mentioned Delmore Schwartz. Delmore was barely a blip in the story compared to other notables such as Elizabeth Bishop or Randall Jarrell.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Group Portraits” (p 108).