Across the Savage Sea

Fontenoy, Maud. Across the Savage Sea: The First Woman to Row Across the North Atlantic. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2006.

Reason read: my good friend Frank was born in January and he loved, loved, loved boats and the sea. Read in his memory. Also as a selection for the Portland Public Library 2021 Reading Challenge: An extreme survival story.

Maud Fontenoy was twenty-five years old when she decided to embark on a nearly four month journey across the North Atlantic in 2003. She was officially at sea for 117 days. While she kept in constant contact with family, friends, sponsors, and news agencies, Fontenoy was alone with only what the ocean could offer her for company. She was entertained by dolphins, mesmerized by whales, stymied by fish, and terrorized for a short time by sharks. Occasionally, a tanker would cross her path, as she was squarely in their shipping lane for a good part of the journey. The real threat to her journey, however, was not the sharks, nor the tankers but the weather. Tropical storms would wreak havoc on Fontenoy and her little boat. Despite the fact meteorologists kept her abreast of developing weather patterns, there was little she could do to avoid the high seas and violent winds that came with them. Her strength and fortitude to just survive were astounding.

Confessional: I read this book before I started the Book Lust Challenge. I opted to read it again because I couldn’t remember many details. Plus, it’s a pretty short book so it was easy to add it back on the list. If I ever met Fontenoy in person I would like to ask if anyone ever found her message in a bottle.

Somebody helped me out. There is a moment when Fontenoy was convinced a much larger vessel was bearing down on her. She describes how her radar detector went off, beeping like crazy. However, she later shares that her detector was defective and said it “detected no vessels during the crossing.” So, what was the beeping? Does that mean the droning of the vessel’s engine and the smell of exhaust was all in her imagination? Was there a near miss with another vessel or not?

Quote to quote, “I wondered why the god of the sea had chosen to keep me in the palm of his hand” (p 95).

Author fact: Fontenoy has written two books about sailing. Both are on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: there is a small section of photographs for which I am grateful. I had a hard time picturing Fontenoy’s craft, Pilot.

Nancy said: Pearl said Across the Savage Sea is “well worth your reading time.” I completely agree. So much so that I’m reading it again for the Challenge. I said that already.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Row, Row, Row your Boat” (p 191).


Alcestis

Beutner, Katharine. Alcestis. New York: SoHo, 2010.

Reason read: Female Dominion Day in parts of Greece is celebrated on January 8th. The premise is the women get to leave their husbands at home with the housework and kids while they celebrate being matriarchs.

Beutner takes Greek mythology and turns it on its head. It is no small feat to retool a myth and turn Euripides’s male-centered drama into a lesbian love story. This is the story of Alcestis, the woman who sacrificed her own life to save her husband’s. Her outward loyalty knows no limits, beginning with faking the end of her virginity on her wedding night when, like some men with a secret lover, Admetus can’t perform. But internally, Alcestis is no ordinary woman. She is a mortal with many complex personalities: as a dutiful daughter, a sacrificing wife, a ever-loving sister, a sheltered princess, and the passionate lover of a goddess.
Once Alcestis volunteers her life and she is in the underworld, she observes a place in a state of constantly shimmering and shifting allusion. It is difficult, but Alcestis begins a three-day search for her beloved sister who died at ten years old. Every time she inquires about Hippothoe she is met with strange riddles in place of replies as if to protect her from an unknown horror. No one wants to clearly say what has become of Hippothoe. Alcestis perseveres boldly for she is not afraid of the underworld, nor the gods who rule there. She will not take no for an answer. In the meantime, she says yes when she is seduced by, and ultimately falls in love with, Persephone. Alcestis seems to grow larger than life as her sexuality becomes more fluid and not as easily defined. When she is “rescued” and brought back to the living Alcestis is forever changed.

Line that stuck with me, “My mind stuttered and stuck” (p 189).

Author fact: Beutner earned her BA in classical studies from Smith College in 2003.

Book trivia: Alcestis was nominated and a finalist for a LAMBDA award in 2011.

Nancy said: Pearl called Alcestis a good novel.

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


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).


Voyages of Doctor Dolittle

Lofting, Hugh. The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 1922.

Reason read: to continue the series started in honor of…nothing. I read the Story of Doctor Dolittle by mistake. I’m actually ending the series with the Voyages of Doctor Dolittle.

The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle has upped its game from the last installment. Adventures on the high seas! A riveting murder trial! A daring bullfight with five bulls in the ring! And that’s just the first half of the book. Our story begins with ten year old Tommy Stubbins, born to Jacob Stubbins, a cobbler of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, being introduced to Dr. John Dolittle because of a squirrel in need of medical attention. Such an innocent beginning to a wild adventure! Tommy is quickly fascinated by Dolittle’s endeavors to learn the language of shellfish and convinces his parents to let him live with Dolittle as an assistant fulltime. Could Tommy learn how to talk to animals, too? As we learned in The Story of Doctor Dolittle, Doctor John knows a little something about talking to creatures of all kinds. He already established relationships with the furry and feathered kind and contains a whole menagerie in his house and gardens. But what about those creatures living in the sea? While waiting to hear from his fellow naturalist friend, Long Arrow, Dolittle toils in his basement, struggling to understand shellfish.
In The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle the good doctor wants to learn how to talk to shellfish because of their prehistoric existence and goes to great lengths to obtain the knowledge. This quest takes Dolittle and Tommy to Spider Island, an unattached, floating island slowly drifting toward the South Pole. It is there they hope to find Dolittle’s frient, Long Arrow.

I think this quote would apply to any language, “Being a good noticer is terribly important to learning animal language” (p 43). Here are two more lines I liked, “No man stands any chance of going on a voyage when his wife hasn’t seen him in fifteen years” (p 104) and “…across the darkening sky, shreds of cloud swept like tattered witches flying from the storm” (p 190).

Author fact: Hugh Lofting went on to write many more installments of the Doctor Dolittle series.

Book trivia: In the Afterward written by Lofting’s son, Christopher, he explains how some of the original text and illustrations were inappropriate for children and had to be altered for the 1988 edition. As a soapbox aside, we used to say it wasn’t “PC” or “politically correct” to say things that would offend certain groups and yet (big inhale), we currently have a national leader who goes out of his way to offend as many people as he can.

Nancy said: Pearl said the first parrot she met in fiction was Polynesia (More Book Lust p 183). From Book Lust To Go Pearl was actually talking about another book that makes mention of the Dolittle books.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Parrots” (p 183) and again in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” (p 190).


Burnt Shadows

Shamsie, Kamila. Burnt Shadows. New York: Picador, 2009.

Reason read: Confessional: this was supposed to be read in August for a myriad of reasons: Shamsie’s birth month, the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing, and the anniversary of India’s independence from British rule. Somehow I missed it in August but wanted it read before 2021.

Burnt Shadows spans 56 years, from 1945 to 2001 moving from Nagasaki, Japan to Delhi, India to Pakistan and New York, all the while addressing the political geography of the time. India’s independence from British rule serves as a subtle character in Burnt Shadows as it changes the identity of others. At the heart of the story is the necessity of identity: human culture based on the desire to belong somewhere. Every character in Burnt Shadows struggles with a spiritual homelessness and drifting identity. Consider main protagonist Hiroko Tanaka: she fled Nagasaki, Japan after the bombing. Right before the attack she was engaged to a German, but ends up marrying an Indian she meets at the home of her deceased fiancé’s sister in Delhi, India. A misunderstanding leads the couple to Pakistan where they have a son, Raza.
The story opens with the dropping of the bomb on Nagasaki. Hiroko Tanaka loses her fiancé in the blast. How ironic is it she only agreed to marry him that same day? How tragic! In time she makes her way to India and lands on the doorstep of Konrad’s half sister, Elizabeth Burton and Elizabeth’s husband, James. Reluctantly, they take in Hiroko. Sajjad Ashraf, from the province of Dilli, works as a translator for James and Elizabeth Burton and agreed to tutor Hiroko. A beautiful relationship develops between them.
Burnt Shadows is also about the unspoken observation of marriage; the relationships that fail and those that stand the test of time “until death do us part.” Elizabeth and James had small, invisible cracks in their relationship before Hiroko arrived. Hiroko and Sajjad barely knew each other before their hasty marriage and yet it endured.
The last third of the book is difficult to read in that the story moves from one of interpersonal relationships to one of political unrest. The events of September 11th, 2001 play an enormous part in the narrative. It is as if Shamsie has another message, one that she has been waiting for 200 pages to deliver.

Quotes to quote, “There was no moment at which things went wrong, just a steady accumulation of hurt and misunderstanding” (p 109), “She felt she had been waiting all her life to arrive here” (p 295),

Author fact: Shamsie has ties to the Northeast, having gone to Hamilton College in New York and University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Burnt Shadows but it is the last book mentioned in the chapter.

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


Seven Pillars

Lawrence, T.E. Seven Pillars: a Triumph. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1935.

Reason read: Lawrence of Arabia was born in December. Read in his honor.

The title of Seven Pillars comes from the Bible, in the Book of Proverbs. This is Lawrence’s personal narrative about the Arab revolt during World War I. A caveat: with all personal narratives come author perceptions that aren’t necessarily aligned with reality. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars is no different. He used unreliable sources in the form of diaries, journals, field notes, and most unreliable of all personal narratives, his memories. Yet, Lawrence goes to great pains to explain the process of his writing. In the spirit of artistic creation this is much appreciated.
I would be remiss if I didn’t draw attention to the full page portraits and illustrations that are beyond fantastic executed in plaster, oils, charcoal, pencil, and photograph . Lawrence makes special mention of the artist, Kennington, who worked for five years on the majority of the illustrations.
As an aside, Revolt in the Desert is an abridgement of Seven Pillars.

Quotes to quote, “All men dream, but not equally” (p 24), and “Some of the evil of my tale may have been inherent in our circumstances” (p 29).

Author fact: All Souls College gave Lawrence “leisure” in 1919 – 1920 to write about the Arab Revolt during World War I.

Book trivia: Bernard Shaw critiqued Seven Pillars.

Nancy said: From Book Lust To Go Pearl said, “It goes without saying that any trip to Arabia should include reacquainting yourself with him” (p 23).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Arabia Deserta” (p 25).


Winnie-the-Pooh

Milne, A.A. Winnie-the-Pooh. New York: Yearling Book, 1954.

Reason read: Please do not quote me on this, but I read somewhere that Eeyore’s birthday is in December. Read in his honor if that’s true.

I had forgotten Winnie-the-Pooh started off as Edward Bear. Edward is a respectable name for a loveable, if not absent minded, practical, and decent bear. I didn’t know Pooh was a swan until Christopher Robin had other ideas and Winnie-ther-Pooh Bear was born. Who doesn’t know Pooh and his woodland mates: Eeyore, Piglet, Kanga, and Roo? The adventures they have in Hundred Acre Wood are legendary. To bring you back down memory lane- Pooh gets stuck in Rabbit’s door. Pooh and Piglet search for a Woozie. Eeyore misplaces his tail. Piglet is rescued during a flood. Pooh and Piglet want to trap a Heffalump. The gang goes looking for the North Pole. Eeyore has a birthday…Every story has Pooh being slow-witted and honey-sweet.
In addition to being nice and thoughtful Pooh has the attitude of Ready for Anything. We could all learn a thing or two from Winnie-the-Pooh.

Lines I loved: the musings of Eeyore, “Inasmuch as which?” (p 45); the wisdom of Christopher Robin, ” a little Consideration, a little Thought for Others, makes all the difference” (p 122), the kindness of Piglet, “It’s so much more friendly with two” (p 134). Yes, yes, and yes.

Author fact: After serving in World War I, Milne dedicated the rest of his life to writing stories inspired by his son, Christopher. Interestingly enough, another famous author of stories for children, Hugh Lofting, had a son named Christopher who was also an inspiration.

Book trivia: Winnie-the-Pooh was “decorated” by Ernest H. Shepard. I just love that. As an aside, I seem to have taken the character of Tigger the tiger for granted. I just assumed he was always part of the gang from the start. He is nowhere to be found in the first book.

Confessional: when I was in my early twenties I met a man who adored Pooh Bear and all Pooh’s friends. This man became my first and only summer romantic. Now, whenever I see anything Pooh related I think of him.

Nancy said: Pearl said when she thinks of islands the first thing that comes to mind is the chapter in Winnie-the-Pooh in which Piglet is completely surrounded by water. Not exactly a statement about the book…

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade by Decade (1920s)” (p 175). Also in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Oceania, or Miles of Isles” (p 164). The inclusion of this book in Lust To Go was a head scratcher for me. In this chapter the title, Winnie-the-Pooh, is italicized instead of bolded like all the other titles. But because it is included in the index I put it on my list.


In the Time of Butterflies

Alvarez, Julia. In the Time of Butterflies. New York: Penguin, 1995.

Reason read: On November 25th, 1960 Patria Mercedes Mirabal (36), Minerva Mirabal (31), Maria Teresa Mirabal (25), and Rufino De La Cruz (37) were murdered. True story. Read in their memory.

Julia Alvarez framed In the Time of Butterflies around one truth: On November 25th, 1960 three sisters, known as “las mariposas,” died under very suspicious circumstances in the Dominican Republic. While their Jeep was found at the bottom of a steep cliff, their injuries told of a much different and violent death. Before their murders these courageous women were no ordinary citizens of the Republic. After being radicalized at University three of the four sisters defiantly joined an underground movement to overthrow the country’s tyrannical leader, Rafael Leonides Trujillo. Imprisoned for their activities, the women failed to see the warning signs when they are suddenly freed without fanfare. They don’t think anything amiss when their imprisoned husbands are moved to a more remote prison, forcing the sisters to travel a deserted mountain road to visit them. The story begins with Dede, the surviving Mirabal sister, who feels almost a sideshow freak. Every year on the anniversary of her sisters’ murders, some reporter comes calling to hear the sad tale. Because the narration of In the Time of Butterflies is told from the perspective of each sister, character development happens seamlessly. They take turns releasing their passions and convictions, sometimes in first person, sometimes in third.
In the Time of Butterflies is an extremely exquisite and tragic tale. As Dede says, “If you multiply by zero, you still get zero, and a thousand heartaches.”

Lines to linger over (and there were a bunch), “It took some doing and undoing to bring me down to earth” (p 120), “The kissing was bringing on waves of pleasure she feared would capsize her self-control” (p 204), “Even so, my voice threw sparks” (p 261) and lastly, “But if she had a ghost in her heart, she didn’t give out his name” (p 271).

Author fact: Alvarez also wrote How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents which I thought was on my Challenge list, but the only Alvarez I am to read is In the Time of Butterflies. Bummer.

Book trivia: While the deaths of the Mirabal sisters and their driver is a fact, Alvarez admits to filling in their personalities with her imagination.

Nancy said: Pearl called In the Time of Butterflies “heartrending.”

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Historical Fiction Around the World” (p 113) and in Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cavorting Through the Caribbean: Dominican Republic” (p 52).


Writer’s House in Wales

Morris, Jan. A Writer’s House in Wales. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2002.

Reason read: for the Portland Public Library 2020 Reading challenge. I needed a book for the category of transgender or nonbinary author. Jan was James until the 1970s. I love how Morris makes mention of her transition and how the Welsh have “kindly pretended that nothing ever happened” (p 59). The way it should be.

Everyone loves a funky house. Trefan Morys is as unique as they get: imagine a converted old stone barn with wood beams and a slate roof. Now imagine this: the horse stalls converted into two rooms, both being floor to ceiling libraries (because “the Internet is no substitute” for a good book). Model ships, strategically scattered everywhere. More books piled on the floor. I picture this house being cozy yet drafty with its upstairs view of the wild Irish sea; cozy yet sprawling with all of its secret nooks and crannies.
Confessional: I grew up surrounded by houses with charming names. Not the last names of owners, but fanciful [names] such as Treetops, Fairhaven, and Inkspot. Trefan Morys as the name of Morris’s house in Wales seems perfect.
Morris’s focus is not just on her house, but on her country’s people as well. She speaks of geographic history and how Indigenous Wales continues to struggle to keep an identity in the face of a barrage of British influence.
The hidden bonus is learning more about Morris as a person and not just a Welsh author who changed gender. She has a sense of humor. She has a partner who has stuck with her throughout it all. She is fearless: Morris is not one to back down from a challenge, climbing Everest to write about Edmund Hillary’s ascent, for example. Then there’s Ibsen, the cat. It’s all so charming.

There were so many lines I liked. It was extremely hard to narrow it down to just a few, but here are the ones I connected with the most: “I always think of music as means of communication across the continents and the ages” (p 97), “Music also seems to me one of life’s great reconcilers, an instrument of universal good” (p 98),

Author fact: Morris had a cat named Ibsen. Perfect. But…I should also tell you Morris is better known as a historian. The Pax Trilogy is also on my list.

Book trivia: I would have loved to see photographs of Trefan Morys. It just sounds like the perfect house. I did find a picture in a recent edition of ‘The Guardian’ and it only left me wanting more.

Nancy said: Pearl said A Writer’s House in Wales is “distinguished by [Morris’s] keen eye for detail, her fine writing, and her enthusiasm for her subject” (Book Lust To Go p 248).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Wales Welcomes You” (p 248).


Hideous Kinky

Freud, Esther. Hideous Kinky. New York: Penguin, 1993.

Reason read: Morocco’s Independence Day is November 18th.

Esther Freud tells her autobiographical fiction through the eyes of a child. An emotionally untethered mother decides to leave dreary England for the exotic culture of Marrakech, Morocco with two young girls in tow. For money they rely on the kindness of strangers, selling homemade dolls by the side of the road, sewing clothes, and other small ventures. Occasionally and unpredictably, Lucy and Bea’s father would send money from London and they would eat well for awhile. While mother is exploring mysticism and unconventional relationships in the interest of self improvement, Bea and Lucy invent ways to not miss home and their father. Bea, being the elder, wants to replace London in Marrakech with school and stability. Lucy is young enough to want a replacement for the father they left behind. She sets her hopes on some interesting characters.

Quote that resonated with me, “She was the only person I knew who could turn off their ears like shutting an eye.” You, Esther Freud, have not met my mother.

Edited to add: there is a scene in Hideous Kinky that brings me back to a memory of my sister. I can’t unstick it from the walls of my mind. Maybe sharing it here will loosen the gluey nostalgia. One sister wants desperately to play with the other. She begs and begs until the other finally, reluctantly, and with great exasperation agrees. Pride steps in and the lonely sister stubbornly decides “too late!” I was the sister not wanting to play. Shut up in my bedroom with a good book, I clearly remember my sister’s little fingers poking under the door as she pleaded to please play with her. When I finally relented I flung open my bedroom door to find she had defiantly moved on. Touché, sister of mine!

Author fact: Freud is the great granddaughter of Sigmund. The celebrity degrees of separation doesn’t stop there. Freud is also the daughter of painter Lucien Freud.

Book trivia: Hideous Kinky was made into a movie in 1999 starring Kate Winslet. Nope. Haven’t seen it.

Nancy said: Pearl said absolutely nothing about Hideous Kinky.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “North African Notes” (p 158).


Diving Pool

Ogawa, Yoko. The Diving Pool: Three Novellas. New York: Picador, 2008.

Reason read: Japan celebrates a national Cultural Day on November 3rd.

Comprised of three novellas:

  • The Diving Pool
  • The Pregnancy Diary
  • The Dormitory

Here is what you need to know before you dive into Ogawa’s work. At the height of tension the story ends. Period. If you don’t care for cliffhangers you should make up your own endings or just don’t read Diving Pool at all. It’s that simple. Ogawa’s writing is like a subtle psycho-killer movie. Instead of the monster being front and center, there is absolutely nothing tangible to confront. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up, not because a blood-dripping ghoul is staring you down, but because there is nothing to see. The darkness is a wisp of toxic smoke, a hint of danger darting in the corners of your periphery. In Ogawa’s stories it is what isn’t being said that is far scarier than the certainty. In the title story Jun admits he is aware of the protagonist’s cruelty. Then what? You don’t know what happens next. In “The Pregnancy Diary” a sister gives birth to a child who may, or may not, have a birth defect. In the last story, “The Dormitory” a cousin hasn’t been seen for days and the manager of his dormitory always has an excuse for his absence. After you have read these stories you are left without resolution and without resolution your imagination questions the reality.

Favorite lines, “Perhaps it’s because he’s falling through time, to a place there words can never reach,” “When we grow up, we find ways ti hide our anxieties, our loneliness, our fear and sorrow,” and “The baby haunted the shadows that fell between us.” Can’t you just feel the ominous chill between the lines?

Author fact: Ogawa also wrote Hotel Iris (on my Challenge list) as well as The Housekeeper and the Professor (finished).

Nancy said: Pearl had a couple of mistakes on this title. She called it “Divining Pool” (both in the chapter and the index), and she referred to Yoko Ogawa as a male.
About The Diving Pool she said it was like The Housekeeper and the Professor, “delicate and retrained” (Book Lust To Go p 117).

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


The Story of Doctor Dolittle

Lofting, Hugh. The Story of Doctor Dolittle: Being the History of His Peculiar Life at Home and Astonishing Adventures in Foreign Parts Never Before Printed. New York: Duke Classics, 2012.

Reason read: Confessional! This was a complete and utter mistake! Pearl said any of the Doctor Dolittle books would be good to read and the only one she specifically mentioned (twice) was The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. But! It was indexed as the title Doctor Dolittle. Oh well. This was a fun little read which ultimately introduced me to the good doctor.

I would like to have known a real Doctor Dolittle. I can just imagine his house with its goldfish, dogs, rabbits, cats, mice, squirrels, hedgehog, cows, chickens, pidgins, horse, lambs, duck, pig, parrot, and owl…to name a few. You would think all of these animals would get in the way of Doctor Dolittle taking care of human patients when in reality, he preferred the animals to the people. When he learned to communicate with his furry and feathered friends it was game over. He gave up trying to cure the two-legged folks and concentrated on his true friends.
It is pretty high praise to be compared to Lewis Carroll. Hugh Walpole does just that to Hugh Lofting in his introduction to The Story of Doctor Dolittle.

As an aside, I would like to think Hugh Lofting influenced twentieth century pop culture. Dave Matthews sings about a “monkey on a string” and Shel Silverstein told of a crocodile with a toothache. Can you see Dave and Shel sitting down with Doctor Dolittle? I can.

Line I liked a lot, “Dogs nearly always use their noses for asking questions” (p 23).

Author fact: Lofting wrote the Dolittle stories for his children while he was stationed overseas in the form of illustrated letters. He dedicated Dolittle to “all Children. Children in Years and Children in Heart.” Very sweet.

Nancy said: Pearl said nothing at all since she didn’t specifically put this book on her list.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Do in the chapter called “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” (p 190). Since “Doctor Dolittle” was in the index not as a proper title, I corrected it to read The Story of Doctor Dolittle.


Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Thompson, Hunter S. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: a Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. New York: Vintage, 1998.

Reason read: my cousin, Duane, lived and died in Vegas.

There isn’t much of a plot to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Raol Duke, aka Hunter Thompson, and his Samoan lawyer, Dr. Gonzo, travel to Las Vegas to cover a strange motorcycle race, but the real fun starts when they are asked to infiltrate a National District Attorney’s Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Oh, the irony as the two men are out of their minds in a drug-induced haze most all of the time. Crashing cars, trashing hotels rooms, scamming their way out of restaurant checks, and all out hallucinations…this is just the beginning for the pair.
The title of the book comes from a description of Las Vegas, “bad waves of paranoia, madness, fear and loathing – intolerable vibrations in this place” (p 72).

As an aside, Fear and Loathing made me want to look up Kesey’s Bible, The Far Side of Reality to see if it really exists. I only knew of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Another aside about the bars of clear Neutrogena soap. I used to use that specific soap all the time. I can picture the smell perfectly. How bizarre.

Quotes to quote, “Las Vegas is not the kind of town where you want to drive down main street aiming a black bazooka instrument at people” (29) and “The idea of entering a coffee shop without a newspaper in my hands made me nervous” (p 124).

If I had a dollar for every time a drug was mentioned in Fear and Loathing… I could buy myself an entire wardrobe from Title 9. I decided it would be fun to catalog them all:

  • Cocaine
  • Marijuana
  • Acid
  • Mescaline
  • Meth
  • Ether
  • Rum
  • Heroin
  • Beer
  • Speed
  • Opium
  • Tequila
  • Reds
  • Chivas Regal
  • Nitrous Oxide
  • PCP
  • LSD
  • Whiskey
  • Smack
  • Uppers

Author fact: Thompson really was a journalist.

Book trivia: Everyone and their brother knows Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was made into a movie starring Johnny Depp (perfect casting, I might add). If you know anything about me you also know I haven’t seen this masterpiece. Here is a piece of trivia more centered on the book. Fear and Loathing… was dedicated to Bob Dylan for his song “Hey Mr. Tambourine Man.”

Nancy said: Pearl said Fear and Loathing was a “drug hazed account of adventures in the city” (Book Lust To Go p 128). She also liked the opening sentence.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the very obvious and simple chapter called “Las Vegas” (p 128). Also, from More Book Lust in the more interesting chapter called ” Lines That Linger, Sentences That Stick” (p 140).


Mansfield Park

Austen, Jane. Mansfield Park. New York: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2004.

Reason read: Austen published her first work in the month of October. Read in honor of that accomplishment.

My copy of Mansfield Park contained a biography of Austen, a timeline of what was happening during Austen’s short life, and an introduction.
I have to admit, Mansfield Park is not my favorite Austen novel. All the characters seem sniveling and persnickety. Fanny Price is a victim, first of poverty; then a victim of her family’s snobbery as they take her in and abuse her for the sake of morality. Her cousin, Edmund, is the only decent chap. One could argue that Austen was only commenting on the life she keenly observed.

Author fact: Austen died way too young.

Book trivia: Mansfield Park was first published in three volumes and was her third novel.

Nancy said: Pearl said “much lighter in view and tone” when referring to the house Austen wrote Mansfield Park, but nothing specific about the novel.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “An Anglophile’s Literary Pilgrimage” (p 20).


A Change in Altitude

Shreve, Anita. A Change in Altitude. New York: Little, Brown & Company, 2009.

Reason read: Shreve’s birth month is in October. Read in her honor.

I love Shreve’s work. I love how at the end of every book she always leaves the reader slightly unsettled, as if there is more to the story. She refuses to wrap up the ending in a solid “Hollywood-happy” resolution.
Margaret and Patrick are newlyweds; only married for five months and yet I personally found their relationship flat and dispassionate. He, a doctor, travels around Kenya in exchange for research data on equatorial diseases. She, an out of work photographer, hopes to freelance around Nairobi and capture landscapes unfamiliar to her American eye. Together Patrick and Margaret join two other couples in an effort to climb Mount Kenya. Almost immediately, there is an imbalance to their chemistry. Margaret’s feminist sensibilities were threatened when she couldn’t earn her keep with a job and now she can’t keep up with the mountaineering climb. The others continuously leave her behind. Her companions have a much easier go at it. She is further insulted when the men in the group display subtle attitudes of sexism towards her. Arthur repeatedly claims he will take care of her while Wilfred casually refers to the women in the group as “girls.” Her climbing partners are snobbish; questioning the Masai tribe that has been around for centuries. All the while Margaret doesn’t fit in and stays quiet. She has something to prove but does little to promote her capabilities. Oddly, it is only after tragedy strikes is she then able to find her voice. This tragedy will carry consequences long into the future; long after Margaret finds a photography job with a controversial newspaper; long after Patrick and Margaret have new troubles in their marriage.
I couldn’t get a read on Margaret. It was weird, but I found her to be a bit unemotional. She was strangely calm when the couple’s only car is stolen or when she is attacked by fire ants. [The fire ant scene made me itch for days.]

As an aside, there were several things I needed to look up after reading A Change in Altitude. The breed of dog called “Rhodesian Ridgeback” for one. Mount Monadnock for another.

Author fact: Shreve spent some time in Nairobi, Kenya and even climbed Mount Kenya. This definitely helped with her descriptions of the area, if not the characters.

Book trivia: A Change in Altitude is Shreve’s 16th book.

Nancy said: Pearl called A Change in Altitude one of her “favorite” Shreve books.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the simple chapter called “Kenya” (p 123).