Midwives

Bohjalian, Chris. Midwives. Vintage Contemporaries, 1997.

Reason read: Chief Justice John Jay was born in the month of December.

Imagine anything and everything that can go wrong when trying to midwife a birth: there are complications with an at-home pregnancy in rural Vermont; a storm rages; phones go out and roads are impossibly icy; the midwife’s assistant is inexperienced and immature. The husband freezes, struck and stuck immobile with fear. These are the days before cell phones and computer communications. No VoIP, no texting, no Googling how to perform a cesarean or how to stop a woman with high blood pressure from having a cerebral hemorrhage. There is no way to go for help when this same exhausted woman starts bleeding to death after hours and hours of trying to give birth to a second child. A desperate situation calls for desperate measures and seasoned veteran midwife Sibyl Danforth makes a decision to perform an emergency cesarean on this mother. Months later, at her trial for manslaughter, she will tell the court she believed the mother had died. Was it a necessary action or did Sibyl commit callous unthinkable murder? As with all suspicious deaths, Sibyl must be tried in front of a jury of her peers, all the while battling traditional medical opinions and an overzealous community ripe for justice. The midwife culture is one of hippies, people who buck the system and thumb their noses at modern medicine. Midwives give off the vibe they lounge around buck naked while smoking pot. Told from the perspective of Sibyl’s daughter, thirty year old Connie Danforth looks back on her mother’s horrific choice and the subsequent trial that followed.

As an aside, I found myself gritting my teeth through the more difficult sections.

Author fact: Bohjalian also wrote Water Witches. I read that back on April 2010.

Book trivia: Each chapter is introduced with an entry from Sibyl Danforth’s journal.

Playlist: Abba, the Shirelles, Joni Michell, and Janis Joplin,

Nancy said: Pearl called Midwives a remarkable mother-daughter novel, yet it is not included in the “Mothers and Daughters” chapter of Book Lust on page 159.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “What a Trial That Was!” (p 243).

Remake

Willis, Connie. Remake. Bantam Books, 1995.

Reason read: Willis was born in the month of December. Read in her honor.

Remake is captivating. Imagine moviemaking of the future where technology allows you to alter endings to your favorite movies. Don’t like Johnny Depp starring in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? Want to see Ryan Reynolds as the lead instead? With just a keystroke, you can change any detail you want. Live-action filming is a thing of the past. Every little detail can be turned upside-down with a little techno-photoshopping. Nothing is real anymore. Which is unfortunate for one naïve young woman named Alis. All she desires is a dance with Fred Astaire up on the silver screen. She knows all of Ginger’s moves and like Alice in Wonderland, believes the right combination of eat-me and drink-me drugs will get her there. Caught up in love with Alis, Tom muddles his way through fixing bad alterations, all the while offering Alis her face on all the great dancers who danced with Fred. Alis doesn’t want a photoshopped image of herself on Ginger’s body. She wants the real deal.
As an aside, I loved how Willis thought. Here’s a twist: when bona fide actors are maliciously altered into snuff films, litigation ensues. Either that, or the wronged actor becomes a popular porn star.

Author fact: Even though Connie Willis has written a ridiculous number of books, I only had ten on my Challenge list. I have read all but three, To Say Nothing of the Dog, Passage, and Unchartered Territory.

Book trivia: there is an insane number of movies mentioned in Remake. I don’t know if they are all real or not, but I took the liberty of listing them all. You’re welcome.

  • 3 Sailors and a Girl
  • 42nd Street
  • African Queen
  • Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • All About Eve
  • American in Paris
  • Anchors Aweigh
  • An Affair to Remember
  • Annie Get Your Gun
  • Arsenic and Old Lace
  • Athena
  • Babes on Broadway
  • Back to the Future
  • Bell, Book and the Candle
  • Belle of New York
  • Bells are Ringing
  • Ben-Hur
  • Beverly Hills Cop
  • The Birds and the Bees
  • The Blue Max
  • Born to Dance
  • The Boyfriend
  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  • Brigadoon
  • Broadway Melody of 1940
  • Broken Blossoms
  • By the Light of the Silver Moon
  • Camelot
  • Camille
  • Can-Can
  • Carefree
  • Carousel
  • Casablanca
  • Cat Ballou
  • The China Syndrome
  • Chorus Line
  • Citizen Kane
  • The Collector
  • The Color Purple
  • Dance
  • Days of Wine and Roses
  • Death Wish
  • Double Indemnity
  • Dr. Zhivago
  • Dumbo
  • East of Eden
  • Educating Rita
  • Fantasia
  • Field of Dreams
  • Flying Down to Rio
  • Follow the Fleet
  • Fools
  • Footlight Parade
  • Footloose
  • For Love or Money
  • Frankenstein
  • Funny Face
  • Gaslight
  • Gay Divorcee
  • Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
  • Giant
  • Gigi
  • Girl Crazy
  • Godfather
  • Godfather II
  • Gold Diggers of 1933
  • Good News
  • Goodbye Mr. Chips
  • Graduate
  • Great Expectations
  • Greed
  • Gunga Din
  • Guys and Dolls
  • Hallelujah Trail
  • Harvey Girls
  • Hats Off
  • Hello Dolly
  • High Road to China
  • High Society
  • House of Wax
  • How the West was Won
  • How to Marry a Millionaire
  • I Killed Wild Bill Hickok
  • I Love Melvin
  • In the Good Old Summertime
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
  • Into the Woods
  • It’s a Wonderful Life
  • The Kid from Brooklyn
  • Let’s Dance
  • Little Miss Marker
  • Lost Horizon
  • Lost Weekend
  • Love Story
  • Magnificent Seven
  • Maltese Falcon
  • Mame
  • Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
  • Man with the Golden Arm
  • Meet Me in St. Louis
  • Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
  • Music Man
  • My Fair Lady
  • Ninotchka
  • Notorious
  • Now Voyager
  • An Officer and a Gentleman
  • Oklahoma
  • Oliver
  • On the Town
  • One Touch of Venus
  • Painting the Clouds with Sunshine
  • Palm Beach Story
  • Party
  • Pennies from Heaven
  • Phantom Foe
  • Phantom of the Opera
  • Philadelphia Story
  • Pinocchio
  • Plainsman
  • Postcards from the Edge
  • Pretty Woman
  • Psycho
  • Public Enemy
  • Purple Rose of Cairo
  • Purple Taxi
  • Rear Window
  • Rebel Without a Cause
  • Rio Bravo
  • Rising Sun
  • Risky Business
  • Saratoga Trunk
  • The Searchers
  • Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
  • Seven Year Itch
  • Shadowlands
  • Shall We Dance
  • She Wore a Yellow Ribbon
  • She’s Back on Broadway
  • Showboat
  • Silence of the Lambs
  • Singing in the Rain
  • Sleeping Beauty
  • Sleepless in Seattle
  • Small Town Girl
  • Snow White
  • Some Like It Hot
  • Somewhere in Time
  • Spellbound
  • Stagecoach
  • Stage Door
  • Starlift
  • Star is Born
  • Star Trek
  • Star Wars
  • Strike Up the Band
  • Summer Holiday
  • Swingtime
  • Sunset Boulevard
  • Tea for Two
  • Ten Commandments
  • Terminator
  • Thief of Bagdad
  • There’s No Business Like Show Business
  • Thoroughly Modern Millie
  • Three Little Girls in Blue
  • Three Little Words
  • Time After Time
  • Thin Man
  • Too Much Harmony
  • Top Hat
  • Topper
  • Towering Inferno
  • the Trouble with Angels
  • Two Weeks In Love
  • Valley of the Dolls
  • Vernon and Irene Castle
  • West Side Story
  • What’s New Pussycat
  • Where the Boys Are
  • White Christmas
  • Wings
  • Wizard of Oz
  • Wuthering Heights
  • Yankee doodle Dandy
  • You Can’t take It With You

Setlist: “Abba Dabba Honeymoon”, “Anything Goes, “Buckin’ the Wind”, “Crazy Rhythm”, “I Only Have Eyes for You”, “Moonlight Lullaby”, “Put On Your Sunday Clothes”, and “You are My Lucky Star”.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about Remake.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Connie Willis: Too Good to Miss” (p 247).

Cat Who Came for Christmas

Amory, Cleveland. The Cat Who Came for Christmas. Little, Brown and Company, 1987.

Reason read: December is the month for Christmas

Every December I look for a few books that are lighthearted and funny. The Cat Who Came for Christmas fit the bill for the most part, being both a memoir about a specific stray cat coming into Cleveland’s life and a didactic nonfiction containing interesting facts about cats. Here are a few examples: Cleveland delves into the theory of a cat having nine lives; he provides names of politicians and rulers who either loved or detested cats; he shares the dirty secrets of animals shelters, testing on animals (ouch), and price gouging of veterinarians. He shares stories of his work with animals rights organizations. It is not just a warm and fuzzy story about a cat named Polar Bear. But let’s be fair. Polar Bear is the star of the show. The full blown, complete sentence dialogues Cleveland would have with his cat are hysterical.
Cleveland is in good company of famous people who enjoyed cats: Mark Twain, Colette, Walter Cronkite, and Robert De Niro to name a few.

Quote to quote, “You do not, after all, have to walk a wife (p 6).

Author fact: Cleveland likes to drop names. He was good friends with Cary Grant and George C. Scott.

Book trivia: the advance praise for The Cat Who Came for Christmas is star-studded. Bea Arthur, Walter Cronkite, Norman Cousins, and even Doris Day all give a glowing review. See what I mean about the name dropping?

Nancy said: Pearl said many people enjoyed The Cat Who Came for Christmas.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Cat Crazy” (p 51).

Black Path of Fear

Woolrich, Cornell. The Black Path of Fear. Ballantine Books, 1982.

Reason read: Woolrich was born in the month of December. Read in his honor.

To read a Woolrich mystery is to be pulled into a compelling, fast-paced drama that has you turning page after page after page to figure out what happens next. In Black Path of Fear, a chance meeting between a newly hired chauffeur and his mob boss’s beautiful wife sets the stage for a story of gangster vengeance and betrayal. Scotty steals Eva away from her marriage and together, they manage to escape to Havana, Cuba. They have escaped, but not undetected. Soon after their arrival, Eva is quietly and cleverly murdered. All evidence points to Scott. He bought the murder weapon hours earlier. Did he murder the gangster’s wife to avoid the jealous wrath of organized crime? Partnering with a mysterious woman primed for revenge herself, Scott is trapped in Havana. How to extricate himself from the crime is the mystery he and his new partner, Midnight, must solve. [As an aside, I loved the character of Midnight. She is the element of spice that makes the plot all that more delicious.]
Someone said the plot is fiendishly ingenious and I cannot help but agree. I read this in three sittings.
Details matter to me. There is a part of Woolrich’s narrative that did not make sense to me. Scott is chauffeuring Eva, Jordan and Roman to a nightclub. He observes how the three get into the car, saying, “they sat on each side of her.” Yet, when they arrive at their destination, he describes their exits as, “she had to alight before them, and they brought up the rear.” How is that possible? If she was in the middle, how did she get out before them? Would the men allow a woman in an evening gown to crawl over one of them? Unless they were in a limousine, which they were not…

Lines I liked, “It’s surprising how much easier it is to be ethical when you are well fed” (p 50) and “A change of opinion doesn’t make any noise” (p 57),

Author fact: I have six “Black” books of Woolrich’s on my Challenge list. I have only read two so far.

Book trivia: Black Path of Fear is a very short novel. Barely 160 pages, it is a quick read.

Playlist: “Jesus Loves Me”, “Amazing Grace”, and “Siboney”.

Nancy said: Pearl said all Woolrich’s stories are filled with “melodramatic plot twists, doom and dread” (Book Lust p 66).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Les Crimes Noir” (p 65). It also could have been included in the adjacent chapter called “Cuba Si!” (p 68). Just saying.

Swann’s Way

Proust, Marcel. “Swann’s Way,” Remembrance of Things Past: In Search of Lost Time. Volume One. Translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff. Illustrated by Philippe Jullia. Chatto & Windus, 1964.

Reason read: Proust died in the month of November. Read in his memory.

The theme of remembering: the way a cake tastes when dipped in tea; an involuntary memory when least expected. Like experiencing that first kiss, we spend our lifetimes trying to recreate all of the sensations of that first time of anything. It is impossible to do. Proust has a sensory understanding of the world at large and our place in it. Memories of certain foods or music or places have sentimental value because their taste, sound or sight are evocative of childhood’s sweet innocence. A simpler time is romanticized. Most of Swann’s Way takes place in the country home of Combray where Charles Swann is a guest of the unnamed narrator’s parents. Mr. Swann’s way is one of extreme correctness and high society. Much like the novels of Austen, not much happens in Swann’s Way. Proust’s focus is on society.
Dialogue is interesting and accurate. First talking about Mme. Sazerat’s dog and then jumping to Francoise’s asparagus is how dinner party patter often sounds.

Lines to like, “What an abyss of uncertainty whenever the mind feels that some part of it has strayed beyond its own borders; when it, the seeker, is at once the dark region through which it must go seeking, where all its equipment will avail it nothing” (p 59).

Author fact: Proust has been compared to James Joyce. Proust’s full name was Valentin L:ouis Georges Eugene Marcel Proust. No ownder he shortened it to just Marcel Proust! Proust was also a recluse due to health reasons.

Book trivia: my copy was illustrated by Philippe Jullian. Very lovely drawings.

Nancy said: Pearl used Proust as an example of an early roman-flueve.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romans-Fleuves” (p 207).

Hiroshima

Hersey, John. Hiroshima. Alfred A. Knopf, 1988.

Reason read: There is a day in November that is celebrating in Japan called “Cultural Day.” Read Hiroshima to celebrate the day. I also needed a book with a one-word title for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge of 2022.

Isn’t it strange that in times of intense tragedy (like your country being at war), that one could be lulled into a false sense of security just because of the Boy Who Cried Wolf syndrome? When the village of Hiroshima was bombed many people didn’t heed the warnings. Even those responsible for alerting others to oncoming attacks didn’t see it coming or want to believe it. As a common citizen, what are you supposed to do when the system you are taught to trust gives the “all clear” signal? How are you supposed to react to false alarm no. 42,364?
Hiroshima follows the lives of six Hiroshima bombing survivors from the moments before the blast on August 6th, 1945 at 8:15 a.m. to the aftermath of the following year: Miss Toshiko Sasaki, Dr. Masakazu Fujii, Mrs. Hatsyo Nakamura, Dr. Terufumi Sasaki (no relation to Miss Toshiko), Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, and Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto.
Fair warning: you will be privy to excruciating details about their injuries and subsequent health issues. People with no outward visible wounds had a delayed response to radiation sickness with symptoms difficult to fathom. Your heart will break to read of their confusion when trying to understand what happened to them. Theories and rumors about the “strange weapon” abounded. For example, for a while people assumed powdered magnesium was dumped on power lines, creating explosions and subsequent fires. Survivors believed they were doused with gasoline from airplanes high above them. As an American, born nearly twenty-five years after the attack, I hung my head in shame to read of the atrocities.
The edition of Hiroshima I read included a section called “Aftermath” and carefully detailed the rest of lives of the six survivors; how they lived out their remaining years. A few thrived after the attack, but most didn’t.

I like to learn things new when reading outside my comfort zone. The Japanese culture of families who move into their loved one’s hospital to care for them during an illness was fascinating. Family is everything. A decent burial for a loved one is far more crucial than adequate care for the living.

Quotes to quote, “…they could not comprehend or tolerate a wider circle of misery” (p 40).

Author fact: when I was reading up on John Hersey, I discovered his style of storytelling journalism was in its infancy and John was an early adopter of the method.

Book trivia: Do not let the size of the book fool you. While this is a short read (less that 200 pages), it packs a wallop. My 1988 edition included an additional chapter written forty years after the original.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about Hiroshima.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade: 1940” (p 175).

Dune

Herbert, Frank. Dune. Ace Trade, 2005.

Reason read: Herbert began his career as a novelist in November 1955. I also needed a book with a one-word title for the Portland Public Library’s Reading Challenge.

At the center of Dune is a drug known to be a truth seeker called Melange. It acts as an extension of human youth and has the ability to produce multidimensional awareness, the foresight ncessary for space navigation, increased mental abilities, and vitality in the form of being able to diagnose illnesses and treat them accordingly. Quite the wonder drug and in obvious high demand. It is the proverbial fountain of youth and very addictive, as one might suspect. It is mined on the planet of Arrakis, otherwise known as “Dune” the desert planet. As mentioned earlier, Melange gives people the ability to change metabolism with each wound or injury, making survival that much easier when faced with a poisoned blade which makes an appearance frequently.
When it comes to the subject of breeding, I was reminded of The Handmaid’s Tale. Jessica, Paul’s mother, was “ordered” to give birth to a girl but ultimately disobeyed to give her husband a son. Mothers can chose the gender of her child. Imagine that. Another simularity to Handmaid is the idea of a strict caste system society.
Dune is the kind of book that drives me crazy. Suspensor lamps and glowglobes abound. WTF are they? Despite the “otherworldly” details, there is a fundamental truth within Dune. Water is precious in the desert. After the drought we just endured last summer, I can relate. In Dune people can be killed for the fluid in their bodies.

Confessional: how hated would I be if I said I never had the desire to read Dune? Everyone knows how I feel about science fiction in general, but there was something detracting about the vibe I got from the movie and (I say this with one eye open, cringing), I’ve never been a fan of self-centered Sting. There. I’ve said it. Sand worms aside, I wasn’t looking forward to Dune. I wasn’t even sure I would get through the requisite 50 pages. I opted for the audio version which was fantastic. I now want to see the movie. Imagine that!

Lines I connected with, “Dreams were predictions” (p 4). I believe that as well. Here is another phrase I liked, “sift people to find the humans.” I feel like I do that on a daily basis.

Author fact: Herbert based everything in Dune on magic mushrooms.

Book trivia: my audio version included a whole cast of characters. Instead of just one person reading the story, it was acted out by a bunch of people. In addition to that, sound effects were fantastic.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything in particular about Dune.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 215).

Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Complete Sherlock Holmes: Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.

Reason read: It’s Sherlock.

Here are the short stories that make up The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes:

  • “Silver Blaze” – who killed a jockey and where is the famous horse, Silver Blaze?
  • “Yellow Face” – this was my favorite mystery of the book.
  • “Stock-broker’s Clerk” – What is a true connection and how can it be bought?
  • “The Gloria Scott” – a glimpse into Holmes’s past. We learn of a friendship that comes from a dog bite.
  • “Musgrave Ritual” – my favorite line came from this story, “Pistol practice should be an open air pasttime.” Amen to that.
  • “Reigate Puzzle” – holmes is supposed to be resting after an illness but cannot help getting involved with a murder mystery.
  • “Crooked Man”- it was at this point that I decided it would be exhausting to have a conversation with Shelock Holmes; to have all of his observations and elementary deductions punctuating his every sentence.
  • “Resident Patient” – Watson picks up on Sherlock’s method of deducation.
  • “Greek Interpreter” – it is revealed Sherlock Holmes has a brother, Mycroft. The two brothers share the same powers of deduction so a conversation with them would be twice as annoying.
  • “Naval Treaty” – we meet a college friend of Watson’s.
  • “Final Problem” – the story that makes everyone think Homes has died.

As an aside, what constitutes a fabulous forehead?

Author fact: Doyle studied medicine. I think that education helped his writing.

Book trivia: Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes is odd in the sense that it was published in 1893 with a ’94 date.

Nancy said: Memoirs of Sherlock Homes was so under the radar or Pearl since she only indexed The Complete Sherlock Holmes.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “I Love a Mystery” (p 123). Confessional: when I realized I would be reading more than one title within a single book, I started listing out the individual titles. For example, Remembrance of Things Passed has seven volumes (seven titles). I am listing each title separately because there is no way I can read Remembrance in its entirety in one month. So. Same with the Complete Sherlock Holmes. Pearl doesn’t mention each compilation of short stories or novel within but since that’s how I’m reading them, I decided to list them that way. My true confessional is that I have started to list out the short stories and this is where I have gotten myself confused. I haven’t been listing out the short stories in other collections, so why now?

Sense of Sight

Berger, John. Sense of Sight. Pantheon Books, 1986.

Reason read: October is Art Appreciation Month

To read Sense of Sight is to jump into a world of essays on various topics, each one taking you on a journey for the senses. You will discover Albrecht Durer is an interesting looking guy. Berger tells us he is the first painter to be obsessed with his own image. A ride on the Bosphorus can be somewhat romantic if you are patient and watchful. Manhattan, seen as a chaotic paradox and a land of severe contradictions, will astound you. [As an aside, while reading about Manhattan I was simultaneously reminded of Natalie Merchant’s “Carnival” and Candace Bushnell’s Sex and the City with their displays of weak and strong, poverty and wealth, intimacy and strangeness, darkness and light. One of my favorite quotes comes from Berger’s essays on Manhattan, “Manhattan is haunted by the dead” (p 65). And to think the essay in question was written in the mid-1970s. What would Berger think of the dead after 9/11 attacks?]
But. I digress. Back to Sense of Sight. I wish Berger were standing before me. I would ask if it is true the body of the Duchess of Alba was exhumed and her skeleton compared to the Goya paintings (according to Google, it is very much true). Talk about the scrutiny of art! And speaking of Alba, Durer’s conceit was on display in Sense of Sight whereas Maja dressed and indressed evokes a curiosity within us. Because Berger does not provide her image like he did for Durer, are we prompted or subliminally urged to look her up? If so, does that mean we have been artfully played into Berger’s cunning trap of intrigue? He talks of Maja undressed and dressed in such great detail we might not need the investigation if we are to trust our imaginations. But we will want to all the same. In reading Sense of Sight the reader is treated to a mini biography of Claude Monet (did he really love the sea? why do I only think of ponds and lilies?), learn of a hotel that once serves as the interogation and death and torture headquarters during World War II, and come to the realization that poetry is anguish.
Sense of Sight made me think. I have always wondered when a painting is truly finished. What prompts an artist to put down the paint brush for the final time? And this – when a person is no longer with us, are they no longer real? If they become just a memory does what was once tangible become a figment of our imagination?

As an aside, I made this comment in my notes “why can’t it be a social commentary on this is how life is at this very moment? Why can’t we say this is how we do things now?” I have no idea what I was talking about except to say it is under the quote, “heroizing the farm laborer.”
Another aside, I am fascinated by the idea that nomadic people took their art with them. Of course.

Lines I liked, “The nomadic land is not just an image, it has history” (p 55), “The finction of painting is to fill an absence with the simulacrum of a presence” (p 212),

Author fact: Berger also wrote Ways of Seeing and About Looking in addition to Sense of Sight. I just have About Looking as my last Berger book to read.

Book trivia: Sense of Sight includes photographs. That’s how I know Albrecht Durer is an interesting looking guy.

Nancy said: Pearl said Sense of Sight was an extension of Ways of Seeing.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the simple chapter called “Art Appreciation” (p 25).

The Man Who Ate Everything

Steingarten, Jeffrey. The Man Who Ate Everything: and Other Gastronomic Feats, Disputes, and Pleasurable Pursuits. Alfred A. Knopf, 1998.

Reason read: November is the month the U.S. celebrates Thanksgiving…whatever that is to you. All I know is that it is a day people eat a lot of food and it seemed appropriate to read a book with the title The Man Who Ate Everything. I also needed a book for the category of a book about food that wasn’t a cookbook for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.

Even though The Man Who Ate Everything was published over twenty years ago, I have to think some of the truths Steingarten uncovered about food and the consumer industry are still true. Prices and other forms of economic data might be outdated but doesn’t Heinz still rule the ketchup competition? Is there still a Wall Street branch of McDonald’s at 160 Broadway, two blocks north of Trinity church? Steingarten will amuse you on a variety of topics from the safest time to eat an oyster, the chemical makeup of the best tasting water and the discussion of Campbell’s soup recipes to instructions on how to produce perfectly mashed potatoes and french fries (is it the potatoe, the oil, the salt, or the technique?). Even Jane Austen gets a mention into his book. You will pay more attention to the waitstaff in a fancy restaurant after you read The Man Who Ate Everything.
One surprise while reading Steingarten. His quest to be thin. I have a hard time picturing any man looking attractive and healthy at a mere 116lbs. Okay, except maybe Prince.
On a side note, after fifty plus years on this planet, I have finally learned the secret to removing the metalic taste of canned tomatoes, or at least I think I have. I didn’t try the trick.

As an aside, when I was finished reading The Man Who Ate Everything I had so many more questions than answers. What did Steingarten do with the thirty plus brands of ketchup he and his wife sampled? Why have I never heard of 80% of these brands? Are the phone numbers he listed now out of date? (Probably.) What would happen if I tried to call a few of them? Is there any truth to that claim that chlorine in water inhibits the growth of yeast? It gives me enough pause for me to want to try spring water in my dough next week.

Line I liked, “My mind feels at half mast” (p 113). Brilliant.

Author fact: Steingarten started out as a lawyer. At the time of publication he wrote for Vogue. Confessional: when I first saw Jeffrey’s name, I thought he was the cute man married to Ina Garten. Close, but nope.

Book trivia: My copy of The Man Who Ate Everything has a photograph of a piece of bread with a bite taken out of it. The slice is a very close up shot and makes me hungry.

Playlist: “There Will Never Be Another You”, “Love Potion #9”, and Madonna.

Nancy said: Pearl called Staingarten’s column “entertaining.”

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

Neuromancer

Gibson, William, Neuromancer. Read by Robertson Dean. Penguin Audio, 2011.

Reason read: October was once dubbed Computer Learning Month. I needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge under the category of speculative fiction. This also served as a book for the category of book with a one-word title.

I was pleasantly surprised by Neuromancer. I think it is fair to say, and I’ll say it again for the cheap seats, people know I dislike science fiction. This one was different. Very different. Gibson writes with such color and texture. There is brilliance in every fast-paced sentence and word. Combined with a razor-sharp eye for descriptive detail, I was hooked. Take Gibson’s phrase “insect-calm” as an example. Think about it. Insects do not have readable facial expressions. Everything an insect does is without so-called emotion. [As an aside, right after I wrote that sentence someone dropped a dead praying mantis on my desk.] Example number two: consider Gibson’s ability to take the absolute absurd and make it so commonplace it becomes believable. Learn his lexicon and a whole new world will reveal itself to you. Holographs abound. People run around with vaginas on their wrists. Aftershave does smell metallic. Really.
Our hero, Henry Dorsett Case, is a typical down-and-out character driven by guilt and addiction. He used to be the best data thief out there until ex-employers sabotaged and nearly destroyed his nervous system. Nowadays he’s broken beyond belief and mourning the fact the bad guys killed his girlfriend for revenge. He connection to life is only through his work. Sounds like a Hollywood movie. One that has tried but failed to get off the ground. Case has become literally a thing for hire. Paired with Molly Millions (aka Rose Kolodny, Cat Mother, and Steppin’ Razor), Case is blackmailed into working for an ex-military mercenary in need of a ROM module. I’m going to stop there.

Author fact: gibson has written a ton of other stuff but I am only reading Neuromancer and Pattern Recognition for the Challenge. I find it amazing that Neuromancer was Gibson’s debut novel.

Book trivia: Neuromancer has a huge impact on society. It became a movie (of course) as well as a video game and inspited hundred of science fiction “cyberpunk” writers. It is rumored the word “cyberspace” was coined by Gibson.

Nancy said: Pearl said to read Neuromancer as the book that started cyberpunk.

BookLust Twist: for all of the high praise, I am surprised Neuromancer is in only one Lust book, Book Lust in the sole chapter called “Cyberspace.com” (p 69). After some thought, I have decided Pearl was right to only include Neuromancer once. If you read the wiki page about the novel, you will see many, many people were interested in bringing Gibson’s book to the stage in the form of an opera or to the big screen as a movie. None of these endeavors panned out for one reason or another.

Left Hand of Darkness

Le Guin, Ursula K. The Left Hand of Darkness. Ace Books, 1969.

Reason read: October is Fantasy month. Also, I needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge for the category of book published in the year you were born.

To read the classic Left Hand of Darkness is to discover a completely different way of thinking. To understand just how advanced Le Guin’s vision was in 1969 you need to consider at that time, in 1969, where society stood in regards to technology, human sexuality, and cultural constraints. When she describes electric vehicles with their super quiet hum and the gender fluid planet of Winter/Gethen, it feels very 21st century. Interestingly enough, the role of “pervert” on Gethen is assigned to what we would consider normal (assigned) gender today. I find that extremely interesting. As an aside, is it still true that Earth is freewheeling and without tact? I think so.
Mr. Ai (artificial intelligence?) is on a mission to bring an alliance between Gethen and Ekumen. The only thing I have in common with misogynist Ai in that I also like sour beer. His “friendships” are based on need and slim tolerance.
The message of Left Hand of Darkness is the tiny spark of hope despite all the darkness that surrounds us. It is worth rereading over and over again. As both authors of the foreword and afterword of the anniversary edition mention, there is something new to discover each time.

Author fact: Le Guin died in 2018.

Book trivia: this is a reread for me. I read it in high school as well as grade school.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about Left Hand of Darkness.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 215).

Farmer Giles of Ham

Tolkien, J.R.R. Farmer Giles of Ham: The Rise and Wonderful Adventures of Farmer Giles, Lord Tame Count of Worminghall and Knight of the Little Kingdom. Embelished by Pauline Baynes. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1976.

Reason read: October is Fantasy Month. I also needed a book for the category of “Book I wish I had read as a child” for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge.

Farmer Giles (aka Aegidius Ahenobarbus Julius Agricola De Hammo) lives in a kingdom where giants and dragons occasionally terrorize the community. Normally one to mind his own business and not get involved, Farmer Giles is seen as a hero after he chases off a giant terrorizing the village and squashing livestock. After such accidental bravado, it is only natural that the village appoint Farmer Giles as the one to slay a greedy dragon (worm) when it comes calling on Ham. With a talking dog and an overworked mare, Giles accepts the challenge. The result is as humorous as it is childish. This is a book for children of all ages, after all.

Quote I liked, “It ran through the realm like fire and lost nothing in the telling” (p 40). That’s the sign of a good rumor. Note to self: beyond being a hero, it is good to be a darling.

Author fact: Everyone knows Tolkien for his Lord of the Rings series. I have to admit, I had never heard of Farmer Giles of Ham until Book Lust.

Book trivia: Farmer Giles of Ham is hailed as a book for children but I have to agree with one reviewer that it is a book for all ages. At only 64 pages it is a quick read.

Nancy said: Pearl said Tolkien’s Farmer Giles of Ham has one of her favorite quotes about the possibilities of fantasy.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 213). As an aside, I am really putting a dent in this chapter this year.

Haunting of Hill House

Jackson, Shirley. The Haunting of Hill House. Pengin Horror, 2013.

Reason read: October is the time for spooky stories. I also needed a story where the house is central to the plot for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge. This fit the bill.

Any story endorsed by Stephen King is going to be a thriller. At least, one would think. Such is the case with The Haunting of Hill House. I was thrilled with it. Jackson is masterful at making an old mansion come alive in subtle, yet ominous ways. For starters, the house is built all wrong. Jackson obviously understood that symmetry is the key to desired beauty, so to make something ugly it has to be confusing with uneven angles that defy logic. Sightlines would not make sense. Doors have to lead nowhere. Staircases turn inhabitants around to the point of dizzying confusion. Despite all this, a certain Dr. Montegue has heard all the rumors about Hill House and cannot wait to investigate the so-called haunted house. He has been waiting for a house like this all his life. His “guests” Eleanor Vance and Theodora (first name only Theodora) join him and the heir to Hill House, Luke Sanderson, in a quest to search out the ghosts and paranormal activity.
Rules of the house: try not to close any doors, keep lights on at all times, don’t try to leave the house at night, never get separated and/or try to do everything together. It goes wothout saying, they all fail at one or all of these commands at one time or another. Hill House starts to show its personality when it first drops the tempature. The colder the room, the closer the threat. Then it tries to get the group to break up by masterfully turning them against one another. Eleanor is the obvious weakest link. She feel empty before even coming to Hill House. The death of her mother weighs on her and guilt threatens to strangle her at every quiet moment. Guess who falls prey to the house?

As an aside, my father-in-law was not a fan of neither the book nor the movie. I’m not sure why. Since it’s October, I watched both versions of the remake. I can’t tell you which one I liked better. The 1963 version was more true to the novel, but the 1999 version was scarier (people actually die in the latter version).

Author fact: Jackson died in North Bennington, Vermont. Just up the road from me.

Book trivia: The Haunting of Hill House was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1959. It was also made into a kooky little movie in 1963.

Nancy said: Pearl had lots to say about The Haunting of Hill House. She said it cemented Jackson’s reputation (despite two bad movies). She called it a classic that has been “scaring people” since it was first written. She also said it was a “superb” example of the range horror fiction.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust twice, once in the chapter called “Ghost Stories” (p 100) and again, in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 217). A little redundant.

The Castle

Kafka, Franz. The Castle. Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir. Everyman’s Library, 1992.

Reason read: While this is not “The Verdict”, I am reading The Castle in honor of the month “Verdict” was written.

Do you remember the story of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet following the trail of a woozle? They think the woozles are multiplying because their own footprints are multiplying as they circle the tree? The absurdity of following your own footprints without conclusion – that is exactly what reading The Castle is like. K. is a land surveyor who thinks he has been hired to do a job for the Castle only for some inane reason he cannot gain entry. Barriers abound everywhere. How can he measure and estimate if he cannot visit this very important castle? K. is literally thwarted at every turn. No matter how hard he tries, no matter how many schemes he concocts, he never does any surveying for anyone. On a deeper level, it seems Kafka is trying to tell us K. abandons his home for a quest for meaning.
Beside the strangeness of K.’s insistence to do a job he obviously wasn’t hired for, there are other bizarre moments: K. randomly throwing snowballs at people or calling both assistants by the same name because he cannot tell them apart (and why does he need assistants when he can’t do the job in the first place?). All of a sudden he is engaged to Herr Klamm’s lover, Frieda. They are given classrooms as a place to live as they are hired to take care of the school and vegetable garden, only they have to vacate the room if a class is in session. Of course a class is going to be in session and heaven forbid K. is left alone with the cat! So many absurdities that I’m back to the analogy of Pooh and Piglet.
As an aside, listen to a song by Josh Ritter called “The Torch Committee”. In the lyrics, Josh lists rules and regulations that are reminiscent of the hoops K. must go through in order to gain entry to the castle. If K. is not dealing with the Control Official or Department A, he is negotiating with Town Council or the Superintendent or the Mayor.

Author fact: I also read The Trial by Kafka as part of the Book Lust challenge.

Book trivia: of course The Castle was made into a movie. It has also been a radio program and a graphic novel. For another thing, translation matters! For the first time I have paid attention to the words translators pick: annoyed versus exasperated, defend versus vindicate, quickly versus hastily. What a difference the choise of a word makes!

Nancy said: Pearl said Kafka had a “frightening view” of Prague.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Czech It Out” (p 70).