Love in the Time of Cholera

Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. Love in the Time of Cholera. Translated by Edith Grossman. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.

Reason read: June is the most popular month for marriage.

Confessional: I have a way more personal connection to this story than I rightly should. To scratch the surface and say I love John Cusack’s movies should suffice. If you haven’t seen Serendipity, suspend your belief in reality and let yourself get lost in the possibility of things happening for a reason no matter how absurd.

The game of chess is like the game of love, one strategic move at a time. Who waits for over fifty-three years to possess the woman of another? Fear not! Florentino Ariza has not waited patiently or chastely for Fermina. Despite staying in the town of their romance, Florentino has womanized his way across a broken heart. All the while he has never forgotten the girl who stole his soul so completely as a young man. Fermina Daza, for her part, has gone on to marry the region’s most distinguished men and remains brutally loyal all the days of her marriage. Star crossed lovers from the start, Florentino and Fermina orbit one another. This is the time of cholera. The illness mimics the passions of love with burning fevers and uncontrolled trembling.

When I am eighty-one years old will my spouse know my routine so well he can send a message to the correct location just by noting the time of day?

Quotes to quote, “She did not permit herself the vulgarity of remorse” (p 182),”Years later, when Florentino Ariza had the resources to publish the book himself, it was difficult for him to accept the reality that love letters had gone out of fashion” (p 208).

Author fact: Marquez was exiled in Europe in the mid-1950s for writing articles which had upset the Columbian government.

Book trivia: Love in the Time of Cholera in part tells the story of Maquez’s parents.

Playlist: Mozarts’ “La Chasse,” Schubert’s “Death and the Marden,” “In Questa Tomba Oscura,” “When I Wake Up in Glory,” Enrico Caruso,

Nancy said: Pearl said absolutely nothing specific about Love in the Time of Cholera.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Latin American Fiction” (p 145).


Testament of Youth

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).


Onions in the Stew

MacDonald, Betty. Onions in the Stew. Philadelphia: JB Lippincott, 1954.

Reason read: to finished the series started in April in honor of Humor Month.

In truth, Onions in the Stew can be read independently of any other Betty MacDonald memoir. All three are very different from one another. Onions in the Stew tells of the period in MacDonald’s life when she and her children, with her second husband, buy a house on Vashon Island in Puget Sound. It starts off as a humorous commentary on island living but morphs into the trials and tribulations of raising two teenager daughters who just have to rebel against everything you want for them. By the end of it, the reader can’t help but sigh. MacDonald blends just the right amount of laugh-out-oud funny with sweet poignancy. This was my favorite of the three memoirs by far.

Author fact: MacDonald might be better known for her Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle stories for children, but Onions in the Stew was delightful.

Book trivia: Onions in the Stew is another memoir about Betty MacDonald’s life. The Egg and I and The Plague and I are two others. These do not necessarily need to be read in order to be fully enjoyed.

Playlist: “Tangerine,” “Rock of Ages,” “You’re Mine, You,” “Embraceable You,” “Sweet Lorraine,” “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home,” “Paper Moon,” Frank Sinatra, Frankie Laine, Billie Holliday, and King Cole.

Nancy said: Pearl mentioned Onions in the Stew as one of those books that will be so funny you will fall off your chair from laughing.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Tickle Your Funny Bone” (p 218).


Third Helpings

Trillin, Calvin. Third Helpings. New Haven: Ticknor & Fields, 1983.

Reason read: to finish the Tummy Trilogy started in March in honor of National Food Month.

Trillin is at it again with a third and final installment of the Tummy Trilogy; another series of essays all about his idea of good eating. Third Helpings starts with Trillin’s belief that Spaghetti Carbonara should be the national dish at Thanksgiving. It’s a quirky idea, but I get his point. Fourteen essays follow.
The more I read Trillin, the more I admire his wife and her ability to travel to strange lands to eat even stranger foods without complaint, but my favorite character was Mrs. Rome. The list of food she sampled between pages 97-99 is very impressive. It is no wonder she gained nine pounds on that trip!

Irony: the last chapter of Third Helpings is about Crescent City, Florida. I guess there used to be a big catfish festival along the St. John River. At the time I was finishing Third Helpings I was in Florida, not far from Crescent City.

Author fact: According to IMDB, Calvin Trillin is also an actor. What the what? He was in Sleepless in Seattle. Mind blown.

Book trivia: Third Helpings is the final book in the Tummy Trilogy, but Trillin has also written a memoir about his father and a few books about his wife, Alice. None of those books are on my Challenge list.

Playlist: “Oh Marie,” “Tell Me That You Love Me,” “The Streets of Laredo,” “Rock Around the Clock,” “Moon Over Miami,” and “Let’s Go To the Hop.”

Nancy said: Pearl called Trillin’s essays “treasures.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Food for Thought” (p 91).


Unsung Hero

Brockmann, Suzanne. Unsung Hero. New York: Ivy Books, 2000.

Reason read: May is Brockmann’s birth month. Read in her honor.

Back in 2008 I read Defiant Hero, starring Navy SEAL Lieutenant John. Then in 2011 I read Out of Control with the dashing Navy SEAL Ken Karmody. This time we have Navy SEAL Tom Paoletti in Unsung Hero.
Most of Brockmann’s romances have these common details: Navy SEALs, kidnappings, an important grandmother, a terrorist or two, great looking people with hard bodies, and let’s not forget roiling sexual turmoil. Unsung Hero is no different. Tom Paoletti and Kelly Ashton’s conundrum is that they have history dating back to high school: Kelly was too young for next door neighbor Tom so he ran away to join the military a month early. Sweet and innocent Kelly was left with unrequited teenager lust never to be forgotten. But now, sixteen years later, Kelly is all grown up and just happens to be visiting her father. Tom is also back in town trying to convalesce after getting caught in a bomb blast. Kelly never lost the burn for Tom, so much so that even though her father is dying of terminal cancer, all she can think about is getting the doomed man back in bed. She needs to return to her fantasy about Tom and his um…hard body as soon as possible. Even though Tom is damaged goods, his one track mind is no better. He too carries the long burning torch of lust. He eyeballs Kelly’s perfect ass as they blithely discuss her father’s terminal cancer. Insert eye roll here. So sex aside, while Tom is home he catches a glimpse of a terrorist long thought dead. His superiors think the bomb has altered his reality and refuse to take him seriously, leaving Tom no choice but to cobble together his own counterterrorist team to take the man down.

Author fact: I think I read this on a Wiki page: Brockmann dropped out of college to join a band. How cool is that?

Book trivia: Unsung Hero is actually the first book in the Troubleshooters, Inc. Novel series. I read them out of order and like an idiot didn’t catch on that a plot with the same characters just might be a series. Duh.

Nancy said: I like what Pearl said about Brockmann’s novels. She said Brockmann gives a “female slant to the James Bond ethos.” The characters are “sharply drawn” and the reading of her work is “interesting.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romance Novels: Our Love is Here To Stay” (p 203).


Abraham Lincoln: the Prairie Years, Vol II

Sandburg, Carl. Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Yeas, Volume Two. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1926.

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

When we delve back into Sandburg’s volume two of Abraham Lincoln: the Prairie Years Lincoln is now in his forties. He is a family man. His political life is becoming more and more entangled with his career as a lawyer. His direct, plain-speaking, and honest approach has people trusting him and he soon has a following of stump-speech fans. In the courtroom, his ability to deliver calm closing arguments that sway even the toughest juries has people wanting him to run for President of the United States. As Sandburg eloquently put it, “His words won him hearts in unknown corners of far-off places” (p 155). His role as a leader of our country is starting to come into shape.
[As an aside, it was interesting that I was reading about town gossip while at a salon getting my hair cut. There is no better place to hear tongues wagging than in a salon (except maybe in a bar).]

Author fact: Carl and his wife were married just shy of 60 years.

Book trivia: Best part of the book was when Lincoln was having a conversation with a goat. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud, thinking of tall, gangling Abraham bending low to converse with an animal.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about either volume of Abraham Lincoln: the Prairie Years.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade: 1920s” (p 176).


The Dog Next Door

Robertson, Keith. The Dog Next Door. New York: Viking Press, 1950.

Reason read: April is National Dog Month. For the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge I needed a book with an animals in the title.

Thirteen year old Hal has wanted a dog all of his life. His neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Perkins, have never wanted a dog in their lives. Ever. Unfortunately, Mrs. Aylesworth, boxer breeder and sister to Mrs. Perkins, unceremoniously sends the Perkins a beautiful dog named Beau as a gift. So begins a dilemma with a seemingly easy fix: the Perkins should give Hal the dog. Right? Only, Hal’s parents think a dog would be too much responsibility for Hal and the Perkins, knowing Beau is a pure bred, think he could be sold for a lot of money (once they get over the guilt of selling a gift). Stalemate. As a consolation prize, Hal’s parents tell him he can build a treehouse in the back yard complete with a telescope. With the help of elderly boat builder and friend, Mr. Seward, Hal not only builds a shipshape treehouse, he develops a keen sense of responsibility. He watches helplessly as Beau, the new canine about town, is blamed for dog fights and attacks on community members. Beau is getting the reputation of being a vicious dog. Hal needs to set the record straight, but how?
The Dog Next Door was beautifully yet sparsely illustrated by Morgan Dennis. I wish there had been more illustrations.

Author fact: Robertson has written other books, but The Dog Next Door is the only one I am reading for the Book Lust Challenge.

Book trivia: This was a hard book to find. Not many libraries had it on their shelves. As an aside, my edition (published in 1950) had seen better days. It had pen marks, rips and holes.

Nancy said: Pearl mentioned The Dog Next Door when reminiscing about the books she used to read as a child. I have to admit, it was cool to hold a book old enough that my dad could have read the same copy. He would have been twelve years old and definitely interested in reading about a boy who longed for a boat and a dog of his own.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Great Dogs in Fiction” (p 104). Both Keith and the title of his book were left out of the index.


The Blessing

Orr, Gregory. The Blessing: a Memoir. San Francisco: Council Oaks Books, 2002.

Reason read: April is National Poetry Month. Gregory Orr is known for his fantastic poetry.

This is Gregory Orr’s painful memoir of not only the terrible moment when he shot his brother to death in a hunting accident, but the uncharacteristic way he and his family, tight lipped and stoic, dealt with the pain. Only one week after the tragedy the Orr children were back in school as if nothing happened. Gregory was in the seventh grade at this point. When Orr’s father uprooted the family and took them to Haiti, Gregory, as an adult, is able to look back at the episode and as delve briefly into Haiti’s turbulent political history and conflicting cultures (a mention of Castro and Papa Doc Duvalier) as a perfect comparison to his own family’s unsettled time. It is unbelievable, but even more tragedy followed the Orr family after arriving in Haiti. Once in full adulthood, Orr tries to make sense of his past and his responses to all of its shocking heartache. For example – when his mother died, none of her children were invited to the funeral. Father, a man Gregory once worshiped and wanted all to himself, is later described as having “not a nurturing bone in his body.” What father gives bottles of amphetamines as going away presents to his son while he carrying on a relationship with a girl barely older than Gregory? All of this sounds like a book unbearable to read. It is not. In the end, Gregory is able to find his way through the maze of mixed emotions and come out with the determination to become an accomplished poet.

Lines to ponder, “We were grateful to let something so mysterious and disturbing pass out of memory” (p 85), “Violent trauma shreds the web of meaning” (p 134), and “Poems are discrete artifacts of language that prove someone’s imagination and linguistic gifts have triumphed over disorder in a definitive, shaped way” (p 144-145).

Playlist: “Ti Oiseau,” “Greensleeves,”Somnambule Ballad,” “Keep Your Eye on the Prize,” “Aint Gonna Study War No More,” “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” “Birmingham Jail,” “We Belong to a Mutual Admiration Society (My Baby and Me),” “We shall Overcome.” Fats Domino, Chubby Checker, Bob Dylan.

To look up: To Die in Madrid: a documentary on the Spanish Civil War and the sculptor, David Smith.

Author fact: Orr also wrote The Caged Owl which is also on my Challenge list. It will be interesting to read the poetry now that I’ve read the memoir. Will I see hints of Orr’s personal life in his lines of poems?

Book trivia: There are no photographs in Orr’s memoir.

Nancy said: Pearl included The Blessing in her list of “beautiful and moving memoirs by poets.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Prose By Poets” (p 194).


Cheaper by the Dozen

Gilbreth, Jr., Frank B. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. Cheaper by the Dozen. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1948.

Reason: April 1st is known as April Fools Day. Cheaper By the Dozen is a foolish story.

The parents of Frank and Ernestine make an interesting couple. She is a psychologist and he is a motion study engineer. Together, they work to make processes more efficient for various business and by default, their twelve children are efficiency aficionados. Why twelve children? As Mr. Gilbreth explains, they were “cheaper by the dozen.” It’s a running joke in the family. Be forewarned, the family has a lot of running jokes.
An example of making a process more efficient: Mr. Gilbreth evaluated surgeons during operations to make their procedures go smoother.
While the bulk of Gilbreth’s story is humorous, it must be said that at the time of writing no one thought it politically or socially incorrect to call a Native American a “red indian.”
I don’t want to give too much away, but the birth control scene was hysterical. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud more than once. And I don’t think it is a spoiler alert to say that I loved the ending. Mother Gilbreth steps fearlessly into her husband’s shoes and carries on the family business. Brilliant.

Favorite dad line, “Some simpleton with pimples in his voice wants to talk to Ernestine” (p 220).

Author fact: Frank and Ernestine are siblings and wrote the book together.

Book Audio trivia: my copy of the audio book was narrated by Dana Ivey and had music before each chapter.
Book trivia: Cheaper by the Dozen was made into a movie more than once. Myrna Loy starred in the first version. My music connection: Josh Ritter has a song called Myrna Loy and the print version was illustrated by Donald McKay.

Playlist: “stumbling,” “Limehouse Blues,” “Last night on the Back Porch,” “Charlie, My Boy,” I’m forever Blowing Bubbles,” “You’ve got to See Mama Every Night or You Can’t See Mama at All,” “Me and the Boy Friend,” “Clap Hands, Here Comes charlie,” “Jadda Jadda Jing Jing Jing.”

Nancy said: Pearl said Cheaper by the Dozen remains one of the funniest books ever.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Humor” (p 166).


Golden Gate

Seth, Vikram. The Golden Gate: a Novel in Verse. New York: Random House, 1986.

Reason read: April is National Poetry Month. I also needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge under the category of a novel in poem form.

This is an early eighties story of a group of people living in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridget in San Francisco. John is a successful but lonely executive looking for some kind of love. His ex-girlfriend-turned-loyal-good-friend, Janet Hayakawa, takes pity on him and places an ad in the personals (a la Rupert Holmes: if you like Pina Coladas). As John goes on bland blind date after bland blind date he finds ways to avoid second encounters with each woman until he meets Liz. It’s practically love at both sight for both of them…until he moves in with her and meets her cat. Competition with a pet is not easy.
Philip Weiss is also looking for love after his wife, Claire Cabot, left him and their young son, Paul. When Philip tries a different sort of love he is confronted with conflicting feelings. Morality, religion, and society’s attitudes guide his choices. These are just a few of the characters in Golden Gate. As the reader, you get to delve into their work, their relationships, their responsibilities. It’s all about human connections. Attitudes towards homosexuality. The loss of love. The ridiculous fights you can have in the throes of love. The fact it is one giant poem is just icing on the cake. I was captivated until the (surprising) end.
It took Vikram thirteen months to finish The Golden Gate.

As an aside, I like the names of the cats: Cuff, Link, and Charlemagne.

Line I liked, “Their brains appear to be dissolving to sugary sludge as they caress” (p 52). Isn’t that what true love is all about?

Playlist: “Apple of My Heart,” Brahms, Pink Floyd, the Beatles, Mozart, Schonberg, Grateful Dead. “Beat It” by Michael Jackson.

Author fact: Seth also wrote A Suitable Boy which is on my Challenge List.

Book trivia: Even the Dedication and Acknowledgements are in verse.

Nancy said: Pearl called Golden Gate funny and warm.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust twice. First in the chapter called “California, Here We Come” (p 49), and again in “Poetry: a Novel Idea” (p 186).


Lucky in the Corner

Anshaw, Carol. Lucky in the Corner. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2002

Reason read: April is National Dog Month.

In a word, Lucky in the Corner is about relationships. Okay, two words: complicated relationships. Nora and Fern have a strained mother-daughter relationship. Nora had Fern at a young age essentially defying her own deep rooted lesbian reality: she first kissed a girl at age twelve. Now, in a romantic relationship with sophisticated Jeanne, Nora is trying to find common ground with defiant Fern. Her daughter is the type of girl to get a tattoo just to piss off a parent.
Fern works as a psychic knowing full well this too is something her mother will never understand. To be fair, Fern has an uneasy relationship with her mother because she can never quite trust Nora will always be there for Fern. She has felt her mother could disappear at any second, exactly like a not-quite-there hologram. Call it her psychic abilities but Fern senses her mother’s betrayals before they happen. Beyond navigating a complicated relationship with her mother, Fern is also coping with a breakup, the changing relationship with her best friend (who is now a mother herself), and the peripheral relationships with her mother’s girlfriend, Jeanne and Fern’s cross dressing uncle, Harold. The only relationship not changing too much is the one Fern has with her dog, Lucky.

Quote to quote, “One of the most excellent things about him is that he is able to let observations roll to a comfortable spot on the side of the road” (p 203).

Playlist:

  • Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,”
  • “Turn the Ship Around” by David Marquet,
  • Della Reese’s “Someday,”
  • “Chain of Fools” by Aretha Franklin,
  • “Different Drum” by the Stone Poneys,
  • Lena Horne’s version of “Stormy Weather”
  • “If It Makes You Happy” by Sheryl Crow,
  • “Book of Love,”
  • The Supremes’ “Stop in the Name of Love,
  • “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee,
  • “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” by Teresa Brewer,
  • Radiohead,
  • “Volare,”
  • “Misty,”
  • Rage Against the Machine,
  • Beck,
  • Yo-Yo Ma,
  • Judy Garland.

Author fact: Anshaw has written a bunch of other things. I am only reading Lucky in the Corner.

Book trivia: this should be a movie.

Nancy said: Pearl mentioned Lucky in the Corner as having a character who is either gay or lesbian.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Gay and Lesbian Fiction: Out of the Closet” (p 93). Lucky in the Corner is also mentioned in “Great Dogs in Fiction” (also from Book Lust p 104).


Alice, Let’s Eat

Trillin, Calvin. The Tummy Trililogy: Alice, Let’s Eat. New York: Farrah, Straus and Giroux, 1994.

Reason read: to continue the series started in March for Food Month.

Calvin Trillin has an ever-patient wife. In Alice, Let’s Eat Mrs. Alice Trillin practically steals the show in every chapter she appears. She has great wit. As an example, I loved her “Law of Compensatory Cashflow.” My husband has the same law: if you save a bunch of money by not buying something, you are free to use that savings on something equally as frivolous. At the time of writing, an in-flight meal cost $33. Trillin packs his own “flight picnic” so he can spend the “saved” money somewhere else, maybe on an oyster loaf. Much like American Fried, Alice, Let’s Eat is a collection of humorous essays all about eating and finding the best food across the globe.

As an aside, I need to look up Steve’s Ice Cream in Somerville to see if it still exists.

Sound track: “Hello, Dolly.” Musically related, Trillin visited Owensboro and I couldn’t help but think of Natalie Merchant coving the song, “Owensboro.” No one knows who wrote the old folk song, but it’s a good one.

Author fact: I wanted to find some fact that was “Alice” related. I learned that Trillin and his wife were married just shy of 40 years. She passed away in 2001, just four years shy of their fortieth anniversary.

Book trivia: Alice, Let’s Eat can be read independently of any other book in the Tummy Trilogy.

Nancy said: Pearl called Alice, Let’s Eat a treasure.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Food For Thought” (p 91). Curiously, Alice, Let’s Eat was not included in the index of Book Lust.


Ghost Soldiers

Sides, Hampton. Ghost Soldiers. Anchor Books, New York: 2001.

Reason read: I read somewhere that March has a “Hug a G.I. Day” so I put this on the list. Even though I already had two books for this category, I am also reading Ghost Soldiers for the Portland Public Library’s Reading Challenge for the category of a book where a group works toward one goal. In this case, a group of 121 soldiers work towards rescuing 513 prisoners of war.

A group of 121 personally picked soldiers are called into action. Their mission: to march thirty miles to rescue 513 prisoners of war; survivors of the Bataan Death March. Sides is thorough in his storytelling. Side by side narratives of the rescued and the rescuers. One minute the reader is with the Rangers, planning the daring rescue; the next getting to know the prisoners of war. All the while the Japanese are launching deadly attacks and no one can predict their next erratic move. Using reliable documentation to recreate the drama, diaries, scrapbooks, oral recollections, interviews, correspondence to loved ones, and autobiographies make for an intimate feels-like-you-are-there narrative.
For me, the most moving exploit of the Rangers was when they had the villagers assist them in building an airstrip in one night (a mere five hours) to evacuate a critically wounded doctor. It brought me to tears to think of every man, woman, and child working their hardest in the dead of night to create an airstrip in the jungle for a complete stranger.
An interesting side story is the one of Claire Phillips, aka “High Pockets” working as a spy disguised as a cabaret owner. After she is exposed as a traitor, Sides seemingly ends her story but there is a postscript to her tale.

As an aside, I had to laugh when the deaf soldier was in the latrine during the raid. He missed the entire event; never heard Rangers calling for him; never noticed how quiet the camp was once everyone left.

Quotes I enjoyed, “But you would be amazed at what you can take if you have to” (p 306). Spoken by Robert Body about the march to freedom.

Playlist: Amazing Grace, Home on the Range, Don’t Fence Me In.

Author fact: Sides wrote many other books but I’m not reading any of them.

Book trivia: Ghost Soldiers has a decent collection of photographs including a group of the surviving Prisoners of War and Rangers fifty-five years later. Sides also lists every man held as a prisoner of the Cabanatuan camp. It’s pretty sobering to see all the names compiled on two pages.

Nancy said: Pearl calls Ghost Soldiers a “dramatic story.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “World War II Nonfiction” (p 253).


The Godfather

Puzo, Mario. The Godfather. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1969.

Reason read: March is usually when the Academy Awards are held. The Godfather was awarded nine out of twenty-eight awards. Another reason: The Godfather movie was released on March 15th, 1972. Also: I decided to read it for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge in the category of PPL Book of the Week Pick.

Who does not know the name Don Vito Corleone? Who doesn’t know the infamous “horse head” scene? I haven’t seen the movie but even I have known about these details of The Godfather for decades. People just couldn’t stop talking about the son who was hung like a horse (speaking of horses).
The year is 1945 and World War II is over. Mr. Corleone can go back to his “olive oil” business, if that’s what you want to call it. In reality, this is the story of the Mafia society and all its inner workings. Vito Corleone rules his family from Long Island inside a well fortified compound. Outwardly, he is a quiet, friendly, benevolent, and fair man. He never forgets a debt. Underneath his reasonableness is a ruthless and vengeful gang leader who will stop at nothing to protect his empire of gambling, bookmaking, and controlling the unions. Other “families” are branching out; delving in drugs and prostitution. Don Corleone wants no part of that action but how long can he control business when these vices grow stronger? Even his own sons look like they might betray him. Who will take up the charge and protect the Corleone name?

As an aside, I found it really hard to picture the characters in The Godfather. All of my imagination was consumed by stereotypical Italian traits.

Quotes to quote, “If you had built up a wall of friendships you wouldn’t have to ask for help” (p 38). A true life lesson.

Author fact: Puzo has also written The Fortunate Pilgrim and Dark Arena. Has anyone heard of these books…especially when The Godfather overshadows them all?

Book trivia: The Godfather is part of a larger series.

Nancy said: Pearl compares The Godfather to the HBO show “The Sopranos.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Italian American Writers” (p 129).


American Fried

Trillin, Calvin. American Fried. New York: Noonday Press, 1983.

Reason read: March is Food Month

American Fried takes its readers from Kansas City (okay, mostly Kansas City) to New York to Louisiana and beyond on a culinary journey of “good eats” as Guy Fieri would say. Trillin approaches the subject of food and eating with humor and, dare I say, a little sarcasm? He takes a few jabs at the notion French cuisine is superior to all others. He is not one for “fine” dining and he is a man who takes his cream cheese seriously. Pardon the pun, but each essay is loaded like a baked potato: full of fun tidbits.
Not to point out the obvious but American Fried is a little dated. The price of a steak in the mid-1970s is drastically different than today.
As an aside: have you ever seen the show, “Somebody Feed Phil” on I-Forget-Which-Channel? At the end of each episode Phil Skypes with his family and shares a delicacy with them over the screen. Phil’s wife is great and while reading American Fried I wondered if Alice was anything like her.
As another aside, rugelach is Trillin’s favorite pastry. It’s very high on my list, too.

Line I liked, “Hallucinations people suffer when gripped by the fever of Hometown Food Nostalgia” (p 10-11).

Author fact: American Fried was first published as “Adventures of a Happy Eater” in 1974.

Book trivia: American Fried is the first book in the Tummy Trilogy. My edition of American Fried has a new foreword.

Nancy said: Pearl said Trillin “approaches food with humor and much gusto” and called the essays “a treasure” (Book Lust p 91).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Food For Thought” (p 91). Interestingly enough, all three of Trillin’s books were left out of the index.