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.


Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years

Sandburg, Carl. Abraham Lincoln: the Prairie Years, Volume One. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1926.

Reason read: February 12th the is birthday of President Lincoln. Read in his honor.

Sandburg’s portrait of Abraham Lincoln is detailed, expressive, poignant, and at many times, repetitive and rambling. In the Prairie Years Sandburg, despite filling the book with long and meandering passages, has an overall lyrical language which is to be expected from a writer who is a talented poet first and foremost. He introduces our nation’s sixteenth president as being a captivating and complicated human being long before Lincoln entered the White House. Sandburg starts Lincoln’s story by portraying him as a quiet and sensitive child whose dreams were very important to him; catching the symbolisms of life at an early age. Later, as an adult, Lincoln would see his dreams and symbolisms as a connection to his future. As a teenager, learning became Lincoln’s obsession. He was said to always have a book in his hand; that he was constantly reading. I have an image of him studying big law books while plowing his father’s fields. All that book reading didn’t mean Lincoln was a soft sissy, though. Lincoln was the Superman of his day. As Sandburg frequently points out, because Abe was so tall and strong with “bulldog courage,” people were constantly challenging him to foot races, wrestling matches, and fist fights: anything to prove their strength against him. Sandburg seems proud to report most times these challengers lost.
In the midst of industry’s wheels just starting to turn, slavery was seen as a profitable business. At the same time, at the age of twenty-three, Lincoln’s political wheels were just starting to turn as well. He wasn’t interested in drinking or fishing. He wanted to continue to learn the law. He became a postmaster so he could have access to newspaper. In the first installment of Sandburg’s biography, we learn Lincoln grew into a complicated man with many sides. Lincoln the storyteller, always telling jokes and stories. Lincoln the neighbor, ready to help a friend, stranger, or animal in need. Lincoln the silent and sad, afraid to carry a pocketknife for fear of harming himself. Sandburg quotes Lincoln as once saying, “I stay away because I am conscious I should not know how to behave myself” (p 22).

Just think of the contemporaries of Lincoln’s day! John Marshall, Daniel Webster; Andrew Jackson was President, Edgar Allan Poe had just been thrown out of West Point and decided to become a writer, Charles Darwin started his journey on the Beagle, Johnnie Appleseed was starting to walk about with seeds in his pockets…

I have come to the conclusion I would have liked to have known Abraham Lincoln, even before he became President of the United States. He had a quick wit and an even faster sense of humor. I would have been drawn to his melancholy, too.

Lines I loved, “Days when he sank deep in the stream of human life and felt himself kin of all that swam in it, whether the waters were crystal or mud” (p 77).

Author fact: Carl Sandburg is better known as a poet. However, he did win a Pulitzer in History for Abraham Lincoln: the War Years (which I am not reading for the Challenge. Go figure.

Book trivia: Abraham Lincoln is a six volume set. I am only reading the first two volumes.

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 175).


Liar’s Game

Dickey, Eric Jerome. Liar’s Game. Rockland, MA: Wheel Publishing, Inc., 2000.

Reason read: Read in recognition of Black History month being in February. Also, I needed a book for the Portland Public Reading challenge for the category of a book written in multiple perspectives.

Vincent Calvary Browne, Jr. is a Negro Black Man trying to date after divorce. His ex-wife cheated. Adding insult to injury, she left him taking their three year old daughter out of the country. Baggage, baggage, baggage. Dana Ann Smith is a single woman trying to land on her feet in Los Angeles after leaving heavy debts and an even heavier romance in New York. Baggage, baggage, baggage. When Vince and Dana meet they are immediately attracted to one another. They seem like the perfect fit. However, in an effort to present their best selves to one another they hide their secrets under a pile of lies and more lies. Sooner or later, those lies start to reveal themselves as the couple gets more and more involved and Dana’s ex arrives from New York. Can Dana see beyond Vince’s lie about never being married or having children? Can she respect him as a father with an ex-wife? Can Vince hear Dana over the warning bells about her debt? Can he trust she is truly over her rich and hunky ex? What makes Liar’s Game so much fun is the varying perspectives of the same story. As the saying goes, there are are always three sides to every story: his side, her side, and the truth. Dickey gives us all three.
A word of warning – the writing is a little dated. In today’s society, I don’t think many people would consider a cell phone a piece of technology for players.
I have to admit even though the sex scenes were a bit cliché it was refreshing to see a condom play a major role in the hot and heavy relationships. There is even a scene when the condom gets “lost.”

Simple but great lines to quote, “Hard living and bad loving ages a man” (p 2), “A smile is the shortest distance between two people” (p 6).

Author fact: Dickey died of cancer in January of this year. Sad.

Book trivia: I could see this as a movie or a daytime soap opera.

Nancy said: Pearl mentions Liar’s Game as another good example of fiction written by an African American male.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter “African American Fiction: He Say” (p 13).


Blanche on the Lam

Neely, Barbara. Blanche on the Lam. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992.

Reason read: January is Mystery month. Reading Blanche on the Lam in honor of the month. Additionally, for the Portland Public Library 2021 Reading Challenge, I needed a book for category of Agatha Award winner.

Blanche White is a special kind of sassy woman; not your average maid. When we first meet her in Farleigh, North Carolina, she is waiting to go to jail; convicted of writing bad checks. This is her second offense so she knows the judge is going to throw the book at her: thirty days in jail if only to set an example. When she unexpectedly finds an opportunity to slip away from the bailiff, she takes it quiet as you please. Just slips out the back door of the courthouse.
Through a series of misunderstandings Blanche ends up working as “the help” for an upper class white family: Everette, Grace, Mumsfield, and Aunt Emmeline. Luckily, Blanche has her wicked humor and uncanny intuition because from the moment she starts working for the family, she can tell something is wrong with all of them except mentally challenged Mumsfield. It wasn’t just from eavesdropping on Everett’s conversation with the sheriff, despite the sheriff’s death the very next day. It wasn’t from observing the odd behavior of alcoholic and seemingly senile Aunt Emmeline, who never leaves her room. It wasn’t from the gardener who perishes in an “accidental” house fire. It was from watching and talking with Mumsfield. From the moment they met Blanche had a special connection to the boy; he was always on her radar whether she liked it or not.
Blanche on the Lam, while humorous also carries the stark reality of sexism, racism and prejudice. Neely deftly weaves these sobering themes through an otherwise funny plot.

As an aside, I listened to an audio recording of Blanche on the Lam read by Lisa Renee Pitts. Her performance was brilliant.

Author fact: Blanche on the Lam is Barbara Neely’s first novel.

Book trivia: Blanche on the Lam won the Agatha Award in 1992.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Blanche on the Lam.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “I Love a Mystery” (p 119).


Will Eisner’s New York: the Big City: New York

Eisner, Will. Will Eisner’s New York: the Big City: New York. New York: D.C. Comics, 1981.

Reason read: Will Eisner passed away in the month of January. Read in his memory.

Every time I think of New York I cannot help but also think of Natalie Merchant’s song, “Carnival.” How could I not? It’s an homage to a great city of contradiction. Her line, “A wild-eyed mystic prophet, on a traffic island, stopped and he raved of saving me” evokes so many conflicting emotions. Thanks to my nephew being born in New York City, I got to waken a dormant love for the Big Apple. Sights, smells, and sounds that are often times distasteful to some (like my husband), fill me with inexplicable energy and ambition. I want to run Central Park like I live on the upper west side. It’s as if New York’s grit and grime are tangible forms of strength and tenacity that speak loudly to me. In New York, Will Eisner captures perfectly the stark reality of the big city’s silent and subtle struggles. You can smell the stench of all corners of New York, hear the frenetic activity in every sentence. But, look and look again very carefully. There is power in what isn’t said. Look at the illustration of the people riding the subway. You can almost hear the rattle of the rails; and when the train grinds to a halt during a blackout there’s that one guy who doesn’t change expression. As the minutes tick by, the people around him slowly start to panic while he stoically stares ahead. There truly is always that one guy and if you were on that train, you would see him. This is a portrait of an important city doing unimportant things, all lovingly expressed in a series of vignettes; the constants of New York: Avenue C which connect the East side to West, the importance of stoops, the sentinels of the City (hydrants, mailboxes, traffic signals, lampposts, windows, and sewers), and the people. You can read the entire thing in minutes, but that only means you have time to read it again and again and again.

Best quotes, “The big city is after all a hive of concrete and steel in which living things swarm. Depositing, in the course of their lives, the residue of their existence, in the countless garbage cans that sit dumbly amid the swirl” (p 41).

Author fact: Will Eisner popularized the term “graphic novel.”

Book trivia: After New York the tribute to New York continues with The Building, City People Notebook, and, Invisible People.

Nancy said: Pearl said she really enjoyed New York.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “New York City: A Taste of the Big Apple” (p 151).


Zero

Seife, Charles. Zero: the Biography of a Dangerous Idea. New York: Viking, 2000.

Reason read: another choice relating to New Year’s resolution. Everyone wants to reset the clock. Zero symbolizes just that.

No other number can do so much damage, so says Charles Seife. He tells you this as he is explaining the Golden Ratio, how Winston Churchill is equal to a vegetable, and how you can make your very own wormhole. Mathematics, religion, philosophy, art, engineering, history: they all connect to zero. Mathematics is a more obvious element, but take religion: Shiva, one of the three gods in the Hindu triumvirate, represents nothing because Shiva’s role is to destroy the universe in order to perpetually recreate it. Seife goes deep to illustrate the importance of the zero and how, historically, it created as well as calmed chaos. Zero is historical and humorous, informative and even a little emotional.

Lines I liked, “To add insult to injury, the ultimate Pythagorean symbol of beauty and rationality, was an irrational number” (p 37) and “But the sand reckoner was destined to meet his fate while reckoning the sand” (p 52).

As an aside, does everyone know the music of Josh Ritter? I couldn’t help but think of his song, Lark, when reading Zero because he mentions “Golden ratio, the shell.”

Author fact: Seife has an M.S. in Mathematics from Yale University. Are you surprised?

Book trivia: Zero is the only book I know that starts with the chapter 0 instead of a preface or introduction.

Nancy said: Pearl lures you in and makes you curious about Zero when she says, “[Seife] offers a mathematical proof that Winston Churchill is equal to a carrot” (p 256). Okay, you got me.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Zero: This Will Mean Nothing To You” (p 256).


Siddhartha

Hesse, Hermann. Siddhartha. Translated by Hilda Rosner. New York: MJF Books, 1951.

Reason read: New Year’s Day always evokes resolution talk. Meditation is big on people’s lists. Read Siddhartha as a resolution for someone out there.

How do I describe Siddhartha? In simple terms I would say it’s one man’s journey to find his identity. In the end he finds peace in listening to a river and hearing his heart. In listening, he learns. In hearing, he loves. There is a great deal that happens in between, of course. The proudest and more profound moment was when Siddhartha recognized the pain he currently experiences as the exact same pain he inflicted on his father so long ago. What goes around comes around, as they say.

Quotes to quote, “Had he ever lost his heart to anyone so completely, had he ever loved anybody so much, so blindly, so painfully, so hopelessly and yet so happily” (p 99), and “It seems to me, that love is the most important thing in the world’ (p 104).

Author fact: Hermann Hesse was a German-born Swiss poet and painter in addition to being a novelist.

Book trivia: This is short enough to read several times over. Do, because it will surprise you every time.

Nancy said: Pearl said :no list of books on Buddhism, however short, would be complete without recommending Hermann Hesse’s deceptively simple novel” (Book Lust p 255-256).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Zen Buddhism and Meditation” (p 256).


Vile Village

Snicket, Lemony. A Series of Unfortunate Events #7: Vile Village. New York: Harper Collins, 2001.

Reason read: to finish the series started in October in honor of Halloween.

Once again, right off the bat, Snicket asks you to go read someone else’s book. He says, “And if you insist on reading this book instead of something more cheerful, you will most certainly find yourself moaning in despair instead of wriggling in delight, so if you have any sense at all you will put this book down and pick up another one” (p 6). With an introduction like that, how could you not keep reading Snicket’s book? Very clever. By now you know the format: Snicket is still offering meanings for words and phrases. The three orphaned Bauldelaire children are looking for a place to call home. Violet is a teenager and still very much interested in inventions. Klaus is on the cusp of turning thirteen and still loves reading. Sunny is still an infant with four teeth who still can’t speak in full sentences, but she loves to bite things. They have escaped (again) from Count Olaf and his band of wicked accomplices. Banker and Bauldelaire family friend, Mr. Poe, is still in charge of sending the Baudelaire orphans to their next town of tragedy. This time it’s V.F.D. (“Village of Fowl Devotees”), a mysterious town covered in crows. The problem is, no one in the town wants to be responsible for the children. As the name suggests, the community is devoted to their murder of crows. At a Council of the Elders, a timid and loner handyman who is too skittish to speak up at Council meetings, is order to become the children’s guardian. All day long they must do chores for the community and always be respectful of the crows, crows, and more crows. By day, thousands of them hang around in town but by night they roost in the Nevermore tree on the outskirts of town, conveniently right by the handyman’s house.
As an aside, I skipped from Book 3 to 7. By not reading books 4-6 I missed out on Violet working at the Lucky Smells Lumbermill, Klaus being enrolled at Prufrock Preparatory School, and all three children living with a couple named Jerome and Esme Squalor. At the end of book 6 Duncan and Isadora, two of three triplets are kidnapped. In Vile Village it is up to Klaus, Violet, and Sunny to rescue them.
Additionally, what is pretty amazing about the series of unfortunate events the Baudelaire orphans experienced thus far is that they all happened in less than a year’s time. The fire that killed their parents, the escape from Count Olaf’s house, the escape from Uncle Monty’s house, the escape from Aunt Josephine’s cliff side mansion, the time in the Finite Forest, or at 667 Dark Avenue. Books 1-7 take place in less than 365 days.

Author fact: So far I have told you Lemony was a pen name, his birth month is February, and that I was born in the same month. My last author fact is that Lemony is married to illustrator Lisa Brown.

Book trivia: Vile Village is the seventh book in the series and the last one I am reading for the Challenge.

Nancy said: Pearl called the entire series “wonderful.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Not Just for Kids: Fantasies for Grown-ups” (p 174).


White Horses

Hoffman, Alice. White Horses. Berkley Books: New York, 1982.

Reason read: Judging a book by its cover, I chose White Horses to read in honor of when the television show “All Creatures Great and Small” first aired. I assumed there was at least one horse in the book when I scheduled it for January.

Family: Dina (mother), Harry aka King (father), Rueben (son), Teresa (daughter), and Silver (favorite son). Here’s what you need to know about these people: Every character is deeply flowed. Dina is tragic. King is a jerk. Rueben is nonexistent. Teresa is hopeless. Silver is a conundrum. Everyone is left wanting in one way or another. This is a book with an overarching theme of obsession and I spent most of the time either feeling sorry for the entire family or wondering what the hell was going on with them. Well written without a doubt, but with a stranger-than-strange plot. Dina is obsessed with Arias. These fairytale dark-haired, dark-eyed cowboys supposedly swoop in on mythical white horses to save the day. Dina truly believes that at any second an Aria will arrive outside her kitchen window and steal her away. She stares hungrily at her own son as Silver has the hair, the eyes, and he always wears a white shirt that could substitute nicely for the prerequisite white horse. The favorite son takes on a whole new level of importance when Teresa falls in love with him. What is so special about Silver that makes everyone fawn over him, despite the fact he turned out to be a petty thief, drug dealer, and betraying snitch? Honestly, it’s Hoffman’s control over her storytelling that kept me hanging on to her every word. There is a delicate subtlety to her intentions that was just beautiful.

Confessional: I had to sit with this book for awhile. I just didn’t know how I felt about any of it.

Quotes I liked, “Dina was certain that every jump in temperature could force arguments to rise from the dust, ghosts would appear in the midday haze” (p 3), and “Even after she had climbed onto the raised platform of the cafe, she still wasn’t certain that the bones in the graveyard hadn’t followed her into the heart of the city” (p 37).

Author fact: I have five different Hoffman books on my challenge list. I have finished three of them (including White Horses).

Book trivia: I could see this as an adaptation for the big screen.

Nancy said: Pearl said “It’s not too much of an overstatement to say that much popular fiction of late has as its text or subtext a family in trouble” (Book Lust p 82).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust and only mentioned in the chapter called “Families in Trouble” (p 82), although Pearl could have included it in the first chapter, “A…is for Alice (p 1) because there she lists other Hoffman books.


We Wish to Inform You…

Gourevitch, Philip. We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda.

Reason read: The movie Hotel Rwanda was released in the United States on December 22nd, 2004.

The title of the book comes from a letter written to Paston Elizaphan Ntakirutimana. In it, several Advent pastors, hiding in a hospital state, “We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families…” (p 42). Such a devastating cry for help…only to end in betrayal. But probably the most helpless and hopeless line in the book (for me anyway), was “I took it we were under attack, and did nothing because I had no idea what to do” (p 33). I can’t imagine knowing full well murderers were coming for me, and yet having no idea how to save myself. Imagine having nowhere to go. Nowhere to hide. No way to protect yourself. Heartbreaking. Like macabre trick or treating, gangs went from town to town, just looking for people to massacre.
I find myself asking over and over again how neighbors, friends, relatives, business partners could rise up against their brethren. To kill over and over again with such horrific brutality. Not just an impersonal shot to the head. Not just a quick execution from a far off distance, but an up-close and personal hacking, slashing, chopping; a hand to hand combat/rape/pillage with machetes and knives, sticks and stony rage. The willingness, the eagerness to turn on people you had once worked, lived, learned or played side by side. Colleagues killed colleagues. Neighbors annihilated neighbors. Teachers assassinated their students. Friends turned one another with surprising ease. Gourevitch tries to make sense of it in We Wish to Inform You… by going back historically and analyzing the time before the genocide. His style is to think about the subject from a distance and then living with it up close. He walks around a topic to scrutinize it from every angle. His focus was to ask what really happened and how its aftermath is understood today (at the time of his writing).

Quotes to quote (besides the ones previously mentioned), “Five hundred years is a very long life for any regime, at any time, anywhere” (p 49), “But the decimation had been utterly gratuitous” (p 180), and “What does suffering have to do with genocide, when the idea itself is the crime” (p 202)?

Author fact: Gourevitch spent his childhood in Connecticut.

Book trivia: We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families was awarded the Guardian First Book Award.

Nancy said: Pearl called We wish to Inform You…”personal” and “heart-wrenching” in Book Lust. In Book Lust To Go she included a link to a video of an interview she conducted with Gourevitch in —. The video is no longer available, but I have been able to request archives from Seattle Channel before so…an update: The super fantastic folks at Seattle worked their magic! Within a day I got an email with a link to the interview! Spectacular.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Africa: Today and Yesterday” (p 9) and again in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Africa: the Greenest Continent” (p 8).


Blue River

Canin, Ethan. Blue River. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1991.

Reason read: Iowa became a state in December. Ethan Canin is a member of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.

Author fact: Canin is also the author of best selling novel, Emperor of the Sun, which is not on my challenge list. I did, however, finish Palace Thief ten years ago to the day.

Edward and Lawrence are brothers born six years apart. Edward is the younger, smarter, and more successful brother who married the very beautiful Elizabeth and together, they have a smart son. The Edward and his family live in a huge house in a great neighborhood. They have the perfect life thanks to Edward’s successful career as an ophthalmologist. Lawrence, on the other hand, was always the tough trouble maker; always mysterious, violent, and angry. While the entire story is told from the perspective of Edward, his narrative changes a third of the way through. He talks about his older brother until Lawrence comes to visit. Dressed in rags and looking like a homeless man, Lawrence’s arrival after ten years of silence is so completely unexpected and out of the blue Edward doesn’t recognize him. The brothers have been estranged to the point of strangling the relationship. This short reunion rattles loose memories for Edward. He spends the rest of the book talking to Lawrence, going back in time to relive their tumultuous childhood. The reader is left wondering, who is the traitor, who has the bigger sense of guilt?

Book trivia: the title comes from where the book takes place (in memories) – Blue River, Wisconsin. Current day is Santa Rosa, California.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Blue River; just that Canin is worth reading (as a distinguished MFA alum from the University of Iowa).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Growing Writers” (p 107), and again in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Oh Brother” (p 180).