Crack in the Edge of the World

Winchester, Simon. Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906. Narrated by Simon Winchester. Harper Collins, 2005.

Reason read: San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge opened on May 27th, 1937.

From soup to nuts, Simon Winchester’s Crack in the Edge of the World tells the complete story of the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 with humor, intelligence, and clarity. He begins with the humble birth of the city coupled with the scientific explanation for earth’s volatile nature.
Curiously, when talking about other disasters which have wiped out entire regions Winchester mentions Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but only hints at the destruction of a large portion of Manhattan after the attacks of 9/11. And speaking of the attacks on the World Trade Center, I imagine that witnessing the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake was similar to east coast residents watching the events of 9/11 unfold on their smartphones and television sets. If you were not suffering personal tragedy and your barometer for compassion was at an all-time low, you looked upon the destruction with awe and a strange but removed fascination.
My favorite post-disaster response. The post office was the hero of my childhood, keeping me connected to friends and family miles away. San Francisco’s post office employees made and all-out effort to save their building. As a result they were able to resume service two days after the earthquake. The postmaster understood the importance of communicating with loved ones; an early version of “marked safe.”

Edited to add: I had to come back in here to add this! How could I forget that Winchester quoted Natalie Merchant! She wrote about the San Andreas fault on her first solo album, Tigerlily.

Quote to quote, “But generally speaking, so far as their respective quiddities are concerned, great cities always recover” (p 313).

Author fact: I have a total of eight Winchester books on my Challenge list. I have read three of them so far. Crack in the Edge of the World is my favorite at present.

Nancy said: Pearl said Crack in the Edge of the World was one of the best – if not the best – books about the great earthquake.

Book trivia: Winchesters description of German photographer Genthe sparked an interest in his work.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “San Francisco” (p 196).

Princes of Ireland

Rutherfurd, Edward. The Princes of Ireland. Narrated by Richard Matthews. Books on Tape, 2004.
Rutherfurd, Edward. The Princes of Ireland. Doubleday, 2004.

Reason read: in honor of the Cat Laugh Comedy Festival in Ireland.

Rutherfurd’s Princes of Ireland opens with a lesson in geography, anthropology, and history. I am always learning something new with historical fiction, like the difference between overlords and feudal lords. Did you know that Celtic warriors rode their horses naked? Kissing each other’s nipples is a show of forgiveness? Clans buried their warriors standing up, facing their enemies camp, to keep an eye on them? So many customs and traditions and that is not even getting into the politics of the country!
Although I kept making comparisons to Thomas Flanagan’s Irish series, Rutherfurd’s Ireland is much rowdier than Flanagan’s epic tale. People stealing horses for animalistic (pun intended) pleasures was a head scratcher for me. I have heard the rumors of men with sheep, but horses? Mythology and rituals abound. As an example, the success of the season’s harvest is dependent on the druid’s blessing. All of these details are a vehicle for the clever entanglement of fact and fiction – details so interwoven it is hard to tease them apart.
My favorite part of the story was Rutherfurd’s mastermind of the relationship between Margaret and Joan. Margaret’s misconceptions and prejudices of Joan were skillful and plausible. It was like a medieval gossip rag. Here is another drama: the king’s wish to divorce his Spanish wife for the love of another. The townspeople quarrel about who is in the right.

Edited to add a quote I liked, “Marriage is like religion, in a way, it requires an act of faith” (said by Dame Doyle, p 740).

Author fact: beyond the Ireland saga, Rutherford has also written London, Sarum, and The Forest which are all on my Challenge list. I am not reading the novel about New York.

Book trivia: Princes of Ireland is epic. It spans seventeen centuries of Irish history and is only part one of the saga. The Rebels of Ireland continues the journey.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about Princes of Ireland.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Ireland: Beyond Joyce, Behan, Beckett, and Synge” (p 110).

Brunetti’s Venice

Sepeda, Toni. Brunetti’s Venice: Walks with the City’s Best-Loved Detective. Grove Press, 2008.

Reason read: prepping for a grand trip to Italy. Venice is on the list. I cannot wait to walk the same streets as Lord Byron, Wagner, Goethe, and Proust. They all went to the San Marco district of Venice for inspiration. I must see the equestrian statue of Colleoni.

Brunetti’s Venice is a very clever book. Part travel guide to Venice and part homage to Donna Leon’s character, Guido Brunetti, Brunetti’s Venice is one hundred percent entertainment. Using direct quotes from each of Leon’s mysteries a reader can tour Venice through the eyes of Brunetti. Places like Murano become more vivid. Quoting from all Leon’s mysteries was a bonus for me. I am afforded glimpses of passages from books not on my Challenge list. It also gave me a chance to get to know Guido Brunetti better, as Sepeda writes just as equally about Commissario Brunetti the person as she does the island city of Venice.
As a travel book, the most appreciated information was the time it should take to walk each route using the detailed map. I have to wonder if the information has held up. Information like when restaurants are closed, how to visit a basilica, how to avoid the seedy parts of town. When Brunetti’s Venice went to press Sepeda said, “…today only three exist until the new bridge linking Piazzale Roma and the train station designed by the Spanish architect Calatrava is finished” (p 143). Well, is it finished? Are Venetians still suspicious of Sicilians?
Aside from wondering how current the information, I loved the idea of the great authors who have wandered around Venice: Charles Dickens, George Sand, Balzac, and Cocteau to name a few. Imagine Othello in Venice…
Confessional: I fell in love with Guido from the very first book. He is passionate, sensitive, and predictable. I loved that as a member of the law he lived in an illegal apartment; a structure without permits, blueprints, or statement of intent.

As an aside: Donna Leon admits to getting lost in Venice. Tommy Puzey guaranteed we would get lost during his Walk Italy series on iFit (so far we haven’t).

Quote to quote, “One of the secrets Paolo and Brunetti never revealed to anyone was their decades-long search for the ugliest Christ child in western art” (p 127). Can you just see them whispering to each other, rating the artwork across Venice?

Author fact: I heard a rumor that Sepeda has given guided tours of Brunetti’s Venice. She must really love Donna Leon’s books.

Book trivia: Sepeda uses arrows to indicate when it is time for walkers to move on. I felt it was unnecessary.

Playlist: Vivaldi

Nancy said: Pearl said it would be fun to recreate strolls described in Brunetti’s Venice.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter “Veni, Vidi, Venice” (p 240).

Sacrifice

Bolton, S. J. Sacrifice. Minotaur Books, 2009.

Reason read: This is awful, but I don’t remember why this is an April book.

It all starts when obstetrician Tora Hamilton finds a human body buried on her land. She is new to the Shetland islands off the coast of Scotland, but her husband’s people have lived here for generations. To think she was trying to bury a horse! What she finds instead is the body of a young woman who used to have red hair and appears to have given birth. Who is this woman and why is she on Tora’s land? To dig into the mystery of the buried woman is to reveal a scandal much bigger than a simple death. To dig into history of Shetland is to uncover an ancient secret that is better left for dead. Despite the danger, Tora cannot let the mystery be. The more she uncovers the more she questions her marriage of five years, her job, and her future. Why has her husband stayed away from his homeland for twenty years and does her boss look so much like her father-in-law?
While Tora had questions I had questions for her. What kind of person can shrug off a pig’s heart left on her kitchen table in the dead of night? What about crushed strawberries in the basement? Are those normal occurrences in Shetland? Wouldn’t it drive her crazy that her keys go missing for days? As more strange events start to pile up I questioned Tora’s judgement. That was exactly what Bolton wanted me to do.

Line I liked, “At the end of the day, if you believe something deeply enough, it becomes a kind of truth” (p 313). Amen to that.

Book trivia: because Sacrifice is translated into English some of the sentences are quirky. Case in point: “why the hell was me going back to Shetland?” (p 210).

Nancy said: Pearl caught my attention when she called Sacrifice “creepy and riveting.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Sheltering in the Shetlands” (p 204).

Heart of Darkness

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Penguin Classics, 1987.

Reason read: I needed a short book for the Portland Public Library reading challenge. This us under 150 pages.

We begin with two rivers of contradiction, the Thames and the Congo. Marlow’s journey begins and ends on the Thames.
After reading Heart of Darkness did you ask yourself, “what is the definition of civilized?” I know I did.
Also, I found myself paying attention to light and dark imagery throughout Heart of Darkness. There were contradiction of light and darkness – the sun setting versus the lighthouse’s beam and the glare of the stars. Light needs the dark in order to be its brightest. Night falling has an impact on people and places. All in all, the plot was slow and plodding. I kept waiting for something drastic to happen because I knew the horror could jump out and gnash its teeth any second. The pages leading up to the grand finale seemed nothing more than a vain attempt to rattle the nerves.
I know many people who couldn’t stand Heart of Darkness, but I have to offer this as an alternative. Why? Why is it so hated? I can remember reading a book about a woman working up the courage to commit suicide. I cared to little for the character that by the end of the book I was wishing she would just get it over with! I wanted her kill herself. Instead of saying I hated the book because I wanted the main character dead, I applauded the author. The power of the writing forced me to feel that strongly about a character. Maybe, just maybe, Conrad was forcing his audience to hate much in the same way.

Quotes to quote, “One ship is very much like another, and the sea is always the same” (p 29), “Black shadows of disease and starvation” (p 44), “Your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others” (p 31),

Author fact: I was shocked to learn, according to Paul O’Prey’s introduction, that Conrad, distraught over debts and other failings, shot himself in the chest. What the what? A nicer fact is that Conrad was influenced by Henry James.

Book trivia: I didn’t realize the movie Apocalypse Now was based on Heart of Darkness.

As an aside, you know I have to make connections to my favorite singer, Natalie Merchant. I couldn’t help but think of “Hateful Hate” when I read in the introduction about the white man’s greed for ivory. To be fair, “Hateful Hate” is a 10,000 Maniacs song, but it’s Natalie’s voice I hear when she sings about spotted skins and ivory and that hateful hate.
Confessional: somehow I missed reading this in high school, college, grad school and beyond.

Nancy said: You can always tell when Pearl likes a book. She includes it in more than one Lust chapter and/or includes it in more than one Lust book. It was mentioned four times in Book Lust. Her most meaningful comments include Heart of Darkness is the story all other African novels are measured against and Heart of Darkness should be read along side The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. Having read Kingsolver and Achebe earlier in the challenge, I did not get to enjoy this grouping.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapters called “Africa: Today and Yesterday” (p 10), “African Colonialism: Fiction” (p 14), “Companion Reads” (p 63), and “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade: 1900s” (p 175). Also, in Book Lust To Go in the simple chapter “Nigeria” (p 156). To be fair, Heart of Darkness should not have been indexed in Book Lust To Go. Pearl only mentions it because Chinua Achebe wrote an essay about racism in Heart of Darkness.

Three Cups of Tea

Mortenson, Greg and David Oliver Relin. Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace – One School at a Time. Penguin Books, 2006.

What started as a quest to climb K2 became a much loftier goal for Greg Mortenson when he decided to become humanitarian extraordinaire. Fueled by losing his father early to cancer and losing his sister early to epilepsy, Mortenson knew he had to find a way to help the children of Baltistan obtain some semblance of an education. This would be his life’s work. This would be his tribute to the family members he lost too soon. It didn’t hurt that missionary work was imprinted on his brain when, as a newborn, his parents packed him up and relocated from Minnesota to Tanzania. Furthermore, Mortenson’s father founded Tanzania’s first teaching hospital, giving Mortenson big shoes to fill. This is the story we are led to believe when we first crack open Three Cups of Tea. Mortensen is too good to be true. If he wasn’t saving a woman from death during childbirth, he was building a vocational center for women. If he wasn’t building schools in record time, he was buying desks, teachers’ salaries, and books. If he wasn’t getting an American cataract surgeon to offer free surgeries, he was sending another doctor for specialized training or digging wells for the village of Skardu. Is there anything Mortensen can’t do that didn’t involve his broad shoulders or big hands?
One of my favorite parts of Three Cups of Tea is Relin’s mention of two other world travelers who happen to be women, Isabella Bird and Dervla Murphy.
As an aside, here is what really irks me. Relin (remember him? the other author credited with writing Three Cups of Tea?); he readily admits he wrote Three Cups of Tea; that they were his words, but Mortenson had lived the story. Why doesn’t Relin get more credit? Why doesn’t he go on a book tour and lead Mortenson around like Exhibit A in show-and-tell? Is it because an investigation described Three Cups of Tea as fabricated and most likely an outright lie? Many of the reviews I read either praised Mortenson for his humanitarian work or vilified him for misappropriation of funds and exaggerating his experiences. The reviews talk about the person more than the actual writing. I admit, I got a little flack for reading Three Cups of Tea because of the scandal.

A favorite line, “A shard of California sun gleamed in the stuffed monkey’s scuffed plastic eyes…” (p 46). Mortenson’s memory or Relin’s imagination?

Book trivia: Three Cups of Tea won the Kiriyama Prize.

Author fact: Here’s what scandal can do to an innocent. Relin committed suicide after the facts of Three Cups of Tea were called into question.

Playlist: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”, Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”,

Nancy said: Pearl said Three Cups of Tea is popular. I am assuming this was true before the scandal. Pearl only credits Mortensen with the writing of Three Cups of Tea.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Sojourns in South Asia” (p 212).

Of Bees and Mist

Setiawan, Erick. Of Bees and Mist. Read by Marguerite Gavin. Blackstone Audio, 2009.

Reason read: Read in honor of Indonesia’s Day of Silence in March, but Of Bees and Mist has nothing to do with Indonesia except that the author is Indonesian.

Meridia defies death as a newborn barely minutes old. This is how Of Bees and Mist begins. Such a near tragedy doesn’t explain why her father is verbally and sometimes physically abusive, or how her mother can’t seem to remember Meridia even exists. Ghosts in the mirror are misconstrued as fragments of leftover dreams. The color of the mist outside the family door matters: yellow, ivory, or blue. There was a time before the ghosts and mists, but no one can remember it. All Meridia wants to do is get away from her heartless and cruel family. At sixteen she gets that chance when she meets handsome and charming Daniel. Within a year they are married, but like all good fairytales, Meridia soon finds out she has traded in one horror show for another. This time, her evil step-monster mother performs all the torturing. Helped by an army of fantastical fireflies and bees, Eva manages to make Meridia’s life a living hell even worse than when she lived with her parents. Eva acts as a modern day Iago, letting her vicious tongue as her deadliest weapon destroy those around her. No one is safe from her vile talk. Rumors and lies spew like poison. However, as Meridia matures she finds the strength and fortitude to fight back even if that means giving up everything she loves. Mother and daughter-in-law engage in an interesting dance of push and pull for supremacy in the household. There seems to be no end to the animosities.
As an aside, I always love finding connections to Natalie Merchant. This time I thought of “Planned Obsolescence” when I read about the mystics, prophets, exorcists, spiritualists, and fortune tellers at the town square.

Best quote, “the realization hurt less than she had anticipated, for by that time she had embraced the belief that people would pass from her life in the manner of shadows sliding over a room” (p 42).

Author fact: Of Bees and Mist is Setiawan’s only novel in LibraryThing. It is also the only book on the Challenge list.

Book trivia: this should be a movie.

Nancy said: Pearl said readers shouldn’t miss Of Bees and Mist.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Indicative of Indonesia” (p 103). As an aside, Of Bees and Mist does not necessarily take place in Indonesia. I have read it doesn’t take place anywhere you can readily find on a map. Setiawan, however, is from Jakarta, Indonesia.

Little Bee

Cleave, Chris. Little Bee. Narrated by Anne Flosnik. Tantor Media, 2009.

Reason read: Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s outgoing president was elected in March of 2015. Read in his honor.

Oh, the decisions we make. Have you ever been in a situation where you make a blunder and in an hurried attempt to remedy the situation you make more mistakes? I think of it as stepping in dog sh-t. You are so panicked and embarrassed by the smell emanating from your foot that you don’t think about the most efficient way to clean it off and instead track it around and around looking for a suitable way to wipe it off. This is Sarah’s plight. Upon making a huge marital mistake Sarah tries to remedy it with a quick and careless solution: run away from the problem by taking a free holiday. The trouble only multiplies and multiples until Sarah is faced with dead ends and deep regret. Told from the perspective of Sarah and a Nigerian girl Sarah meets on holiday named Little Bee. Little Bee’s story of trauma will wrap around Sarah until they are forever melded together.

I cannot get over the imagery of Cleve’s writing. Take this combination of words, for example: “butterflies drowning in honey”. What the what?

Author fact: While Cleave has written other books, I am only reading Little Bee for the Challenge. This is his second novel.

Book trivia: Little Bee is published elsewhere as The Other Hand.

Playlist: “One” by U2 and “We Are the Champions” by Queen.

Nancy said: Pearl said a great deal about Little Bee. She called it unforgettable and perfect for book groups. I completely agree because there are so many different themes to ponder and argue about.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter simply called “Nigeria” (p 156).

Born to Run

McDougall, Christopher. Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. Alfred A. Knopf, 2009.

Reason read: A trip to Mexico deserves a book about something that takes place in Mexico.

Ann Trason. The Tarahumara runners. Caballo Blanco. Scott Jurek. These names spark my running imagination. Then there is Mexico and the allure of a different country’s culture. Christopher McDougall writes as if he has stepped beside you in the middle of a twenty mile run and launches into telling you of his adventures in the jungles of Mexico chasing the mythology of Gordy Ainsleigh. His tone is casual, conversational, and warm. The reporting reporter has been left behind for the moment, but he has an ulterior motive. Yes, he will tell you about a race you have probably never heard of, and he’ll talk about people you are vaguely familiar with, but what he really wants to do is tell you about barefoot running. As a long-distance runner he was always injured. He learned of the Tarahumara runners and how they ran with only thin sandals, but they never knew a single injury.
As an aside, I was taken aback by the information in Chapter 25: expensive, high-tech running shoes do not save runners from injuries; in fact, they may be the cause of them. Is there truth to the theory that foot control is king, so the thinner the sole, the better? That would make sense if your foot strike changes with every shoe. It’s the reason why I rotate four pair of shoes.

As an aside, I have always been curious about the Leadville 100 so it was nice to learn a little of the history behind this historic race.

On a personal note, I could relate to Christopher when Dr. Torg told him to take up cycling instead of running. Dr. John told me to take up swimming instead of running when I hurt my knee.

Author fact: McDougall has his own website here. You can find videos about Born to Run.

Book trivia: There is a Born to Run 2 book out there somewhere. I think it supposed to be a training guide.

Playlist: the Beatles, Valentin Elizalde, Zayda Pena of “Zayda y Los Cupables”, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips”, Christina Aguilera, Charlie Parker, and “Strangelove”,

Nancy said: Pearl said Born to Run is a must-read for runners.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go on the chapter called “Postcards From Mexico” (p 184).

James Brooke of Sarawak

Hahn, Emily. James Brooke of Sarawak: a Biography of Sir James Brooke. Arthur Baker, Ltd., 1953.

Reason read: I am reading this as a follow-up to by . had a whole section on James Brooke.

As a young age, James Brooke had a unique life. After he inherited a small fortune, he was interested in buying ships and starting new colonies. He imagined being able to save the souls of the Malays, but really he wanted an entire country to call his own. His confidence went out before him like a high school bully in na├»ve full swagger. From the beginning, Brooke was expecting Sultan Omar Ali to draw up papers – a deed of possession for Brooke to govern Sarawak, just like that. Once in charge Brooke was able to bring order to Sarawak. He established a council of state, an army, national flag, and a constitution. Twenty-four years after the fact he was finally recognized for his feats. He died four years after that. The end.
Hahn draws her biography of James Brooke from letters and journals that have survived time. A surprising tidbit of information was that Brooke was a mama’s boy. But after thinking about his spoiled attitude, I don’t know why I was so surprised by his letters home. Brooke never married, although there is the mystery of Ms. Angela Burdett-Coutts and the broken engagement…
I found it interesting that Hahn seemed to be, most of the time, sympathetic to Brooke. She writes with a conversational tone that is not dry or dull, but is more in defense of most of his actions and questionable character. She almost needs you to like Brooke as much as she apparently does. She uses words like “poor” and “unfortunate” to describe Brooke. She blames the reformers for having contradicting opinions about murder – almost calling them hypocrites for being against Brooke killing people of Borneo saying, “…we must try to understand how he could have acted as he did in various matters…” (p 223). Actually, if you must know, I questioned Hahn’s choice of words often. Consider this sentence, “the fate of the Middletons makes a horrible and somewhat embarrassing story” (p 213). Tell me. What is so embarrassing about absolute terror and the undeniable urge for self preservation? Mrs. Middleton remained hidden while her children were being murdered. I find the next scenario more of an “embarrassment” – a man was charged with guarding a plank but accidentally shot himself in the head. But I digress…

Quote I liked, “Strong men were proud of being able to weep like babies” (p 36). What kind of culture encouraged men to show emotion? That is practically unheard of in our society! Here’s another line I liked,

Author fact: Hahn also wrote China To Me, a Partial Autobiography. This was also on my Challenge list. I have already finished it.

Nancy said: Pearl said if you were interested in learning more about James Brooke, try reading his biography by Hahn. Pearl hints that Brooke is not a likeable character. Maybe she disapproves of him murdering Borneons.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the very straightforward chapter called “Borneo and Sarawak” (p 38).

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold

le Carre, John. The Spy Who Came In from the Cold. Ballantine Books, 1963.

Reason read: while The Spy Who Came In from the Cold didn’t win an Academy Award, Richard Burton was nominated for his role as Alec Leamas. The Oscars are usually presented in March.

I had heard a lot of great things about John le Carre’s novels. Growing up, I can remember one or two titles floating around the house. I definitely think The Spy Who Came In from the Cold was one of them.
You know the story: someone is very close to retiring, getting out of the game, but there is one last job they need to do. After they complete this one final task, whatever it is, then they are out. Fini. Except, you know that’s not how it ends up. The job is always more complicated and/or dangerous. Something always goes sideways and the end is horribly wrong. The spy Who Came In from the Cold is no different. Alec Leamas is nearing the end of his career as a British agent. He wants out but die to a fabricated “problem” with his pension, he has one last mission in East Germany. All he has to do is spread rumors about an East German intelligence officer. After that, he can “get out of the cold” comfortably. Of course, nothing goes to plan. I knew this book was going to be trouble when, within 15 pages four people would die in quick succession.
Heads up: keep in mind this was written in a time when men were allowed to be sexist. It never occurs to Leamas that he might have to work for a woman.

As an aside, I love when books give me a connection to Monhegan however small. The Spy Who Came In from the Cold mentions the Morris Dancers. They performed on Monhegan every summer for years and years.

Line that made me think, “At first his colleagues treated him with indulgence, perhaps his decline served them in the same way as we are scared by cripples, beggars and invalids because we fear we could ourselves become them; but in the end his neglect, his brutal, unreasoning malice, isolated him” (p 23).

Author fact: le Carre died in 2020 and according to his Wiki page, his death was unrelated to Covid-19.

Book trivia: The Spy Who Came In from the Cold is the sequel to Call for the Dead and A Murder of Quality. I only have the former title on my Challenge list, but once again I have read these books out of order. Ugh.

Playlist: “On Ilkley Moor bat t’ at”

Nancy said: Pearl mentioned le Carre as someone to read if you are into spy novels. She also called The spy Who Came In from the Cold remarkable.

BookLust Twist: from a few places. First, Book Lust in the chapters called “100 Good Reads, Decade By Decade: 1960” (p 175) and “Spies and Spymasters: the Really Real Unreal World of Intelligence” (p 223). Second, in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Berlin” (p 36).

36 Views of Mount Fuji

Davidson, Cathy N. 36 Views of Mount Fuji: On Finding Myself in Japan. Plume Book, 1994.

Reason read: In January Japan celebrates Coming of Age. I also needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge for the category, “a nonfiction set in a country that interests me.”

Davidson spent a year with Japan with her husband, Ted. Together, they have jobs teaching English while trying to learn all things Japanese. They make friends who help them with their quest. During this time of total immersion, Davidson becomes intimate with Japanese customs, so much so that when she and Ted are faced with tragedy and their Japanese friends break with tradition for their sake, Davidson is embarrassed and uncomfortable for them. This break from normal protocol touched me. Davidson went back to Japan a total of four times with varying lengths of stay. She and Ted contemplated a move to Japan only to decide the language barrier was too great to conquer. This bothered Davidson. Her inability to learn the language bothered her and shattered her confidence so much so she had to put the books she had written in front of her to reaffirm she is a smart woman.
I promise you, you will walk away with a deepened appreciation for Japanese culture. I did not know Tokyo is chaotic and disorganized in purpose. Streets are unnamed to anonymize people’s addresses. How do things get delivered?

As an aside, in this day of careful avoidance of cultural appropriation, how can someone be offended by Taco Tuesday and not see Davidson’s efforts to build an exact replica of a Japanese house in North Carolina as completely different. Is not that the same thing on a much grander scale?

Best lines I liked, “I was in Japan to see, to experience, to learn, to understand” (p 12) and
“This place was how my life felt: one breath away from disaster” (108).

Author fact: Davidson at the time of writing 36 Views of Mount Fuji was a professor of English at Duke University.

Playlist: “Singing in the Rain”, “One-Eyed, One-Horned, Flying Purple People Eater”, “Weemaway”, Edith Piaf, “Leader of the Pack”, Red Sails at sunset”, Jo Stafford’s “Shrimp Boats Are a Coming”, and “Mashed Potato Time”.

Nancy said: Pearl included 36 Views of Mount Fuji as an example of “the best gaijin account.” She also called it “thoughtful” (Book Lust To Go p 117).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Japanese Journeys” (p 116).

Bay of Noon

Hazzard, Shirley. The Bay of Noon. Little, Brown and Company, 1970.

Reason read: the Battle of Oranges takes place in February.

There is a secret in Bay of Noon. My eyes did a double read when the words “I am in love with my brother” floated past my face. Did narrator Jenny mean what I think she meant? Is that the secret every reviewer alludes to when writing about Bay of Noon? Hazzard drops hints like pebbles disturbing tranquil waters.
In addition to being a story about a woman fleeing a dark secret, Bay of Noon is about the power of friendship. In the end, the reader is left with this question: do years of disconnection matter if the bonds of relationship are stronger than any prolonged length of time?
Confessional: None of the characters were likeable to me and maybe that was the point. I really did not care for Justin. His refusal of plain speak was annoying. Circumventing addressing matters of the heart the way he did would make me walk away. What I did love was the vivid descriptions of the Mediterranean. It made me hunger for all things Italy.
Bay of Noon has been called a romance novel and I guess in some ways it is, but I didn’t like any of the couples and I never really felt any of them were actually in love.

Author fact: Hazzard was Australian but wrote a great deal about Naples.

Book trivia: Bay of Noon was originally published in 1970 but found life again after being republished in 2003. It was shortlisted for the Lost Man Booker Prize in 2010.

Play list: Hazzard has many opportunities to mention songs of musicians by name through all of the dancing, signing, and listening to the radio, but she doesn’t.

Nancy said: Pearl called Bay of Noon “most likely autobiographical” (Book Lust To Go p 148).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the simple chapter called “Naples” (p 146).

The Wedding

West, Dorothy. The Wedding. Read by Robin Miles. Books on Tape, 2021.

Reason read: February was the month Massachusetts became a state. The Wedding takes place on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts.

Dorothy West is a master of character development. Every member of the Martha’s Vineyard Oval community is meticulously realized by their actions and reactions to events surrounding them and by the subservient relationships they keep: black and white, man and wife, neighbor and stranger, parent and child, landlord and tenant. Strangely enough, there is harmony in the contrasts.
It is the wedding of beautiful Shelby Coles. Her engagement to a white jazz musician from New York City has her family in turmoil. Lute McNeil would like nothing better than to steal Miss Coles for his own. He already has three young daughters by three different white women, but in his obsessive mind Shelby would make the perfect mother for his biracial children. Even though the Oval is comprised of black middle class residents, the question of belonging is pervasive. The standard assumption that blonde hair and blue eyes means white race. Everyone uses color to get what they want. Example: the preacher uses the image of white children in danger of hurting themselves around a derelict barn in order to get a white man to give him a horse that was of no use to him. The preacher is really after the barn wood.
Dorothy West forces her characters to face the question of identity. The end of The Wedding will leave you hanging. Would Shelby have given Lute a chance if tragedy had not intervened? Were Shelby’s sisters right in their warnings about misguided infatuation?

Author fact: Dorothy West was 85 years old when she wrote The Wedding.

Book trivia: West was known for her short stories. The Wedding is only one of two novels West wrote in her lifetime.

Playlist: “Swing Lo Sweet Chariot” and “Motherless Child”.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about The Wedding other than to indicate it takes place on Martha’s Vineyard.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the very simple chapter called “Martha’s Vineyard” (p 141). No big stretch there.

Dinner with Persephone

Storace, Patricia. Dinner with Persephone. Pantheon Books, 1996.

Reason read: January 6th is the Fest of Theofania celebrating the baptism of Christ and a celebration of a return to light.

I have always wanted to visit Greece. The landscapes, the weather, the food. Sigh. All of it has me spellbound. But. But! But, the more I read of Storace’s Dinner with Persephone, I am not sure about the culture. I definitely do not agree with some of the attitudes towards women and marriage. Women are inferior to men. Sexual condescension is a thing. The accepted violence of smacking a wife or daughter around and how it is glamorized in television and movies is concerning. There is an ambivalence towards arson, too which I found odd.
Beyond the confusing side of Greek culture, I enjoyed learning about the icons of the region: a blue eye talisman hanging from an old woman’s neck, the juicy red jewels of pomegranates, the fable of Dionysus and the plant. To be sure, there is a lot of religious talk in Dinner with Persephone. The people Storace talk with mention the Virgin Mary as if she is a next-door neighbor they bumped into while going for coffee. Children bring up events dating back to the Ottoman Empire as if it were yesterday. It is only a perception but it seems religion is worked into nearly every conversation.
There is a subtle, almost secretive sultriness to Storace’s writing. I can’t put my finger on why I think that. The language is tedious at times, but more often sensuous.

P.S. I have not given up on the food of Greece. There is this one dish I am dying to try: zucchini blossoms filled with feta cheese, egg, and fresh mint. Yum.

Quotes I liked, “As I travel here, I am losing the illusion that I know where I am” (p 156),

Author fact: Storace has published a book of poetry and has received an American Academy of Arts and Letters award for her work.

Book trivia: This would have been a fantastic book to include photographs. Sorry to say that there are none.

Playlist: “Kyrie Eleison”, “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, “Let’s Take a Walk on the Moon”, “Denial”, Mozart, Bach, Hayden, Beethoven, Chopin, Mendelssohn’s “Wedding Recessional”, Elton John, “This Land is Your Land”, “The Dream After the Dance”, “Roll Out the Barrel”, “Greece Will Never Die”, Katie Grey, Patsy Cline, and “Carmen Sylvia Waltz”.

Nancy said: Pearl called Dinner with Persephone an excellent choice.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Just So Much Greek To Me” (p 120).