The Warden

Trollope, Anthony. The Warden. New York: Book League of America, 1956.

Reason read: Anthony Trollope’s birth month is April. Read in his honor.

Reverend Septimus Harding, at fifty years old, became Precentor of the Cathedral as well as the Warden of Hiram’s Hospital. Because of his dual employment he makes a significantly higher wage than others. This
inequality of salary is a modern conflict and no one is more bothered by this than John Bold. But Mr. bold has a conflict of interest. While he is against Mr. Harding’s significant salary and starts a petition to challenge it, he is also attracted and betrothed to Harding’s twenty four year old daughter, Eleanor. When he realizes the heartache he has caused the Harding family he tries to retract his complaint..but of course it is too late. The wheels of justice have been set in motion. The lesson for John Bold is you made your bed, now you have to lie in it.
The lesson for the Warden is one of morality. Eventually, the suit is abandoned but Harding is still wracked with guilt. He resigns despite everyone’s urging to reconsider.

Line that still holds true today, “What on earth could be more luxurious than a sofa, a book, and a cup of coffee?”

Author fact: Trollope designed his Barsetshire series to be read as modern novels.

Book trivia: the entire Barsetshire series was made into a popular television show.

Nancy said: Pearl’s “favorite Trollope novels are the whole Barsetshire sereis

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Barsetshire and Beyond” (p 15).


Sixpence House

Collins, Paul. Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books. New York:
Bloomsbury, 2003.

Reason read: April is the month for National Library Week.

Wales’s little town of Hay-on-Wye, or just “Hay,” is known as the “Town of Books.” With 1,500 residences and forty bookstores, what better place for a writer to move from Manhattan? Collins writes about his time in the village as a writer, as a house hunter, and as a new father in a whimsical manner; lacing the prose with mini lectures on long-dead writers, dust jackets not doing their one job, and what it means when an author’s color photograph occupies the entire cover of a book. Collins has a sense of humor that is self-deprecating (just try not to giggle when he shares the story of inadvertently peeing on his manuscript of Banvard’s Folly). You find yourself wanting to have a cup of coffee with him just to hear more. My only complaint? No photographs.
Confessional: I love a book that makes mention of Wallace and Gromit!

Right away I knew I was going to have a hard time decided on what to quote. There were so many good ones from which to chose! Here are just a couple, “If you grew up in a rural area, you have seen how farmhouses come and go, but the dent left by the cellar is permanent” (p 2) and this is the quote that gave me the most stop and pause: “It is hard to know just how many times we have been exposed to a word, a face, an idea, before we have it” (p 8).

Author fact: Collins first wrote Banvard’s Folly (also on my Challenge list).

Book trivia: The Sixpence House is the title of the book but the Collins family doesn’t discover it until nearly 150 pages in. Paul and his wife don’t decide to make an offer for another ten ages. In the end they decide it needs too much work and abandon the purchase. I was expecting the book to be more about the trials and tribulations of two Americans trying to restore a long neglected and dilapidated house in Wales. Just another example of Don’t-Judge-A-Book-By-Its-Title!

Nancy said: Pearl called Sixpence a “loving memoir” and a “captivating account of books.”

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Cozies” (p 57).


Best and the Brightest

Halberstam, David. The Best and the Brightest. New York: Random House, 1972.

Reason read: the United States pulled out of Vietnam in the month of March.

Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest is a deep dive into the origins of the Vietnam War. It is a scrutiny of the policies and procedures crafted during the Kennedy administration that led to the consequences in Vietnam. The meat of the book takes place between the years of 1960 and 1965 but flows back and forth to earlier and later times to give substance to the timeline. What really helps the narrative is that Halberstam was a reporter during this time. He was at the heart of the perfect storm: the fall of China, the rise of McCarthy and the outbreak of the Korean War. This trifecta of events had a profound and lasting effect on the White House and domestic politics of the time.

A single line I really liked, “In government it is always easier to go forward with a program that doesn’t work than to stop it all together and admit failure” (p 212). Isn’t that human nature in a nutshell?

Author fact: I cannot help but wonder what books Halberstam would have written had he not been killed in a car accident at the age of 73.

Book trivia: I always love the photographs Halberstam chooses for his books. The photos in The Best and the Brightest are no different.

Nancy said: Pearl called The Best and the Brightest “hefty, riveting and definitive” (p 238). Agreed, agreed, and agreed.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust and More Book Lust. In Book Lust in the chapter called “Vietnam” (p 238) and in More Book Lust in the super obvious chapter called “David Halberstam: Too Good To Miss” (p 112).


Gemini

Dunnett, Dorothy. Gemini. New York: Alfred a. Knopf, 2000.

Reason read: to finish the series started in August in honor of Dunnett’s birth month.

For me, Gemini was like that proverbial wall marathoners hit at mile twenty. I couldn’t imagine reading a single page more…just like runners can’t believe they still have 6.2 lousy miles to go. With its molasses-like plot I grew bored of Nicholas and his never-ending exploits. Gemini is all about heritage. Nicholas discovering his grandfather. Gelis uncovering deep dark secrets like the fact Nicholas is a surviving twin. None of it really appealed to me so I quit. I have more Dunnett on my challenge list so to continue the running theme, this is a DNF, a Did Not Finish. There will be other epic races to tackle.

Confessional: I am getting really tired of Nicholas…but you knew that.

Book trivia: the character list for Gemini is epic.

Nancy said: nothing specific about Gemini.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Digging up the Past Though Fiction” (p 79).


The Moor

King, Laurie R. The Moor. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998.

Reason read: to continue the series started in January in honor of Female Mystery Month.

The plot of The Moor centers around a Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes mystery, The Hound of the Baskervilles. In the swampy, foggy hills of Dartmoor residents complain of seeing a ghostly coach and a phantom dog with glowing red eyes. King introduces real life reverend Sabine Baring-Gould as a long time friend of Holmes’s who is convinced there is trouble on the moor, especially when there is an unexplained death. As the community grows more frightened Holmes calls his wife Mary away from her studies at Oxford to help him solve the mystery. In this third book of the series Mary steals the show and runs the investigation.

I had forgotten that each story is supposed to be a manuscript recovered from a trunk that was dropped on the narrator’s doorstep.

Confessional: when King mentioned the old ballad “Widdecombe Fair” I was hoping it was one Natalie might have hummed at one time or another during one of her shows. It’s not.

Author fact: King has another series set in San Francisco.

Book trivia: The Moor takes place four years after the first story, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.

Nancy said: Pearl said in The Moor Mary became Holmes’s wife but in truth she married Sherlock at the end of The Monstrous Regiment of Women. When we catch up to the couple in The Moor they have been married for two and a half years already.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Ms. Mystery” (p 170).


Tragic Honesty

Bailey, Blake. A Tragic Honesty: the Life and Work of Richard Yates. New York: Picador, 2003.

Reason read: Yates was born in February. Read in his honor.

Does anyone remember the silent film star Louise Brooks? I didn’t know a thing about her until Natalie Merchant wrote a the biographical song, Lulu. I imagine Richard Yates’s life was viewed much the same way. A good handful of people (myself included) probably didn’t know his work until Blake Bailey wrote about his tragic life.
And what a tragedy it was. Yates was an extremely intelligent man plague with insecurities that were held at bay only by a beautiful dame or a tall drink. Sadly, Yates was addicted to both and the uncontrollable addiction to the latter drove away the even the most devoted former. Underneath it all Yates was a devoted father, a talented writer, and a lost soul. I will look forward to reading Easter Parade.
Be forewarned: there came a point in the narrative when I felt there was nothing more to Yates’s biography than loneliness, illness, loneliness, alcoholism and more loneliness. Starting around the 1970s Bailey churned out episode after drunken episode of alcoholic excess peppered with mental illness and trips to the psych ward. Truly depressing stuff…especially as Yates grew weaker and weaker and more pathetic.

I wasn’t a fan of the footnote on nearly every other page method. I realize Bailey wanted to expound on details in a more personal voice and chose to do so at the bottom of the page but to me the practice was the equivalent of someone next to you whispering commentary while you are trying to watch a movie. The quips and comments are interesting but disruptive to the main narrative.

Confessional: I think it is most difficult to read a biography when you are completely unfamiliar with the subject. I have Yates on my Challenge list (of course I do), but I haven’t read him yet. I have to admit I am worried about how much knowing Yates’s personal life will color my opinion of his craft. But, from everything I have read I needn’t worry. Yates wrote autobiographically 97% of the time.
As an in-the-weeds aside, I wonder if a college writing teacher ever accused Yates of being “slickly professional” the first time he was able to articulate close-to-the-bone “fiction.” Before you ask, yes, this happened to me when I finally steered away from pure imagination and put real-life experience on paper. I found myself marching into a professor’s office, hand clutching my Somebody in tow…

Quote to quote just for the imagery, “Sometimes the hacking and vomiting would go on for hours before his lungs were clear enough to light a cigarette and get on with his work” (p 182).

Author fact: Bailey is better known for his biographies of Cheever.

Book trivia: There is a great clump of black and white photos included in A Tragic Honesty. I especially like the picture of Yates and Martha being interviewed. There is something endearing about them together.

Nancy said: Pearl hopes A Tragic Honesty will “revive interest in Yates’s spare and crystalline prose” (More Book Lust p 145). To a point, Pearl is right. I looked forward to reading Easter Parade more so because of Bailey’s biography.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Literary Lives: the Americans (p 144).


Caprice and Rondo

Dunnett, Dorothy. Caprice and Rondo. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998.

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

It is now the winter of 1474 and Nicholas de Fluery is still married to Gelis. While they are still somewhat estranged they still partner to raise their son, Jordan. Their biggest problem is Nicholas keeps wracking up the enemies, making it difficult to protect his wife and son. He’s off in Poland questioning his next moves while Gelis is digging up the dirt on Nicholas’s past. Does this new information hurt or help her marriage?
In this particular installment of the House of Nicollo series, puzzles are the underlying theme.
I have to admit, I am getting a little sick of Nicholas. He has switched allegiances so many times even his friends do not trust him. His relationship with women is getting tiresome as well. The good news is that someone within his circle betrays him badly enough that it leads to the reconciliation with Gelis. By the end of Caprice and Rondo they have joined forces to support one another.

Author fact: Dunnett was also a member of the Board of Trustees of the National Library of Scotland.

Book trivia: this is the penultimate book in the series and sets up the final act of identity for Nicholas as he believes he is a surviving twin.

Nancy said: Pearl said nothing specific about Caprice and Rondo.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Digging Up the Past Though Fiction” (p 79).