Ground Beneath Her Feet

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Rushdie, Salman. The Ground Beneath Her Feet. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1999.

May was deemed National Music Month by someone out there so, in honor of that tidbit I chose The Ground Beneath Her Feet as my “music book.” This was my first time reading Salman Rushdie & I have to confess, if all his other books are so lengthy and detail driven, I am going to have a hard time getting through them. This one was a whopping 575 pages long and and and! I knew the ending in the first chapter!

The Ground Beneath Her Feet is an epic rock and roll love story. Spanning several lifetimes Rushdie tells the love story of Ormus and Vina, two musicians from Bombay. Their story is like a gigantic flood, catching up and describing in detail: cultures, mythologies, histories, industries (agriculture (goats!), music and beyond), the landscapes of India, England and America, their societies, religions, ancestries of families, personalities, births, deaths, emotions, tragedies, triumphs, anything and everything from  the mid 1950s until the early 1990s.  This is a sweeping story that cannot be pigeon-holed into a romance, mystery, or comedy. It is all these things and thensome. Suicides and secrets, miscarriages and murders, wealth and poverty, sane and strange, greedy and generous, brothers and sisters, twins and torture, and of course, sex, drugs and rock and roll.

My favorite quotes circled and scrutinized love:
“In love one advances by retreating” (p 15).
“when it comes to love there’s no telling what people will convince themselves of” (p 30).
“But as the years passed we became each other’s bad habit” (215).

And one quote about my fave, the drums: “It is as if the drums have been yearning to speak to him, and he to them. Finally, he thinks: at long last, here are friends” (p 287).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter “Music and Musicians” (p 164).

 


Murder on the Leviathan

Murder on the LeviathanAkunin, Boris. Murder on the Leviathan. New York: Random House, 2004.

Oddly enough, I chose this book because it was written by an author who spent a great deal of time in Moscow and a guide book advised me that now was the best time to visit Russia. There was no other reason to read this at this particular time. But, having said that, I’m glad that I did. It was fun.
Murder on the Leviathan starts out violently, a record of an examination of a crime scene set in 1878. I think the murders of ten people ranging from ages 6 to 54 in one Parisian house would cause a stir even in the 21st century. Oddly enough, this is not the murder the title of the book refers to. Commissioner Gauche discovers a clue that leads him to the Leviathan, a giant steamship headed for Calcutta. As he sets sail with a host of interesting passengers (in first class) he soons discovers each and every one of them is a potential suspect. It gets interesting when people start dying on the ship. A Russian detective soon joins Gauche on the hunt for the killer.

I didn’t find any quotes to include, but I did have to look up “gutta-percha” shoes. Depending on who you ask, gutta percha is described as tree gum, rubber, or plastic.

BookLust Twist: In More Book Lust in the chapter “Crime is a Globetrotter”, subsection, “Russia” (p 59).


Dreamland

DreamlandBaker, Kevin. Dreamland. New York: Harper Collins, 1999.

It makes sense that a historian like Kevin Baker would write something as epic and sweeping as Dreamland. It is a beautifully blended tale of fiction and reality. Events like the Triangle Shirtwaist fire and people like Sigmund Freud and politics like Tammany Hall exist in harmony with fictional Coney Island gangsters and seedy carnival performers. It’s a world of underground rat fights, prostitution, gambling, and the sheer violent will to survive. It’s dirty and tragic. A love story hidden behind the grime, the colorful lights, the tricks, and the chaotic noise of New York.
Favorite lines that moved me: “That is always the thing with depravity: just when you think you’ve plumbed the very depths, there is always someplece lower to fall” (p 26).
“I sat behind the left ear of Satan, and watched the sun come up over Sheepshead Bay, and dreamed of an empire of little men and little women, ruled by a mad queen” (p 34).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter “American History: Fiction” (p 21). I think Pearl’s description says it all, ” Dreamlandvividly describes the lives of poor immigrants families on the Lower East Side of New York City, circa 1910, who find their lives somewhat more bearable by the promise of excitement of Coney Island” (p 21).


True Confessions

True Confessions
Bringle, Mary. True Confessions. New York: Donald I. Fine, 1996.

This sounds like it would be the title of a very juicy blog. Something I haven’t already spilled in some sordid way or another. Unfortunately, it’s only the latest challenge book for Book Lust. I read this in honor of Mother’s Day and I have to admit it was a strange choice. The inside book cover describes True Confessions (in part) as “…a mother who loves her to death and an ex-mother in-law who doesn’t approve…” So, yes, mothers are part of the story, but you never really meet either mother. As a result I didn’t get that loved to death feeling from mom, nor the disapprovefrom the ex-mother in-law.
But here’s the story in a nutshell: Grace teaches writing in New York, lies to her mother about her location (mom thinks she’s in England), struggles with relationships and fantasizes about being a story in a magazine she is obsessed with called – you guessed it – True Confessions. Grace doesn’t have direction. In the beginning she seems shallow and self-absorbed. Of course there is a period of growth through odd incidents such as her friend’s affair revealed on television, a kidnapping, and even a death. When it is all said and done, Grace emerges a stronger, wiser person.
Critics describe the book as funny, but I have to admit the first laugh-out-loud moment I had was when Grace is in Central Park with her friend Naomi. Naomi has two children, but acts like she wasn’t meant for motherhood: “Grace always felt grateful to Naomi for refusing to submit to the role which it would have been so natural for her to assume” (p 68). On describing her daughter Alice, Naomi says, “Sometimes I think we have her on loan, like a library book…sometimes…it’s not even a book I want to finish” (p 68). There is more. Naomi rants about trying to keep kids away from television. “…unless you want them to be social pariahs they’ll be contaminated sooner or later” (p 69.
Another favorite line: “lunacy is quite impartial. Warps in the genes, screwy endocrines – they don’t count” (p72).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter “Mothers and Daughters” (p 160).


Plain Speaking

harry s trumanMiller, Merle. Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman. New York: P.G. Putnam, 1973.

I think I mentioned before that reading this was good timing. For starters, both Truman and Miller share May as their birth month. Secondly, I just finished reading about Roosevelt for the Early Review program. This just seemed appropriate for the next book to read. There was “flow” to the subject material, if you will.

Comprised of interviews in chronological order, Miller talks to Truman (as former President) as well as Mary Jane Truman (Truman’s sister), fellow Battery D veteran Albert Ridge, even a childhood neighbor of Truman’s, Henry Chiles. The interviews (as opposed to Miller’s interpretation) allow for personalities to emerge. Miller spends more time delving into Truman’s political and military careers instead of the more personal subjects such as Truman’s childhood and relationships. There is a definite rapport between Miller and Truman and Miller is careful to avoid disrespect on several occasions.
While the interviews are very candid (I thoroughly enjoyed “hearing” Truman swear) I thought some sections were drawn out and much longer than they needed to be. I also found myself skipping some of the footnotes because they didn’t always relate to the subject. Another small criticism I had is while reading it was sometimes difficult to know the difference between Truman answering a question and Miller telling his reader something. While he used a different font for the questions posed to the respondent he didn’t for generalized comments to the reader.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter “Merle Miller: Too Good To Miss” (p 155).


Red Badge of Courage

Red Badge of CourageCrane, Stephen. Red Badge of Courage. New York: Signet, 1960.

I have heard complaints about Red Badge (language is archaic, plot is meaningless, etc) and while all those points are valid, they don’t take away from the fact that for a person who never saw a day of combat in life Crane does an excellent job portraying a young soldier in battle. I would imagine that anyone facing death would wrestle with the choice to be brave (“heroic” or “patriotic”) or be a coward. To stay and fight or take flight…especially after encountering death up close.
To say that Red Badge of Courage is about a young man in combat during the Civil War sells the story short. Henry is a young man facing many things for the first time in his life and throughout battle he struggles with all of it. It’s a historical snapshot of the psychology of war. It goes beyond whether Henry can be brave or not. Whether he is a true soldier or not.

I haven’t read Red Badge of Courage since high school but the one scene that has always stuck in my mind is when Henry comes across the dead soldier in the woods. I will always picture the blue uniform faded to a shade of green and the ants. The ants crawling on the dead man’s lip. It’s a powerful scene. The other moment I always remember is when Henry longs to be one of the wounded so that he may have his “red badge of courage” too.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the “Civil War Fiction” chapter (p 57).


Best Girlfriends Getaways

Bond, Marybeth. Best Girlfriends Getaways Worldwide. Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2008.

I am thrilled I got this book to review. Not because I plan to jet off to Africa next week (because I’m not), and not because I even remotely consider myself a worldly traveler (definitely not), but because this book allowed me to imagine the possibilities. Written in such a style that seem to say go for it! Written in such a way that I started imagining some of my best female friends on such adventures with me. All of the information zeros in on what women would find interesting and worthwhile without making it seem too Sex in the City and cliche.
If I were to complain about any one aspect of Best Girlfriends it would be the organization of information. While I loved having such chapters as “Cosmopolitan Cities” (p 39) and “Floating Fantasies” (p 191) I would have loved all things France in one chapter, all things Spain in another. It’s one of those chicken-egg questions. Which comes first when it comes to travel, the location or the activity? I don’t know many people who chose their garden walk (p 211) before the country they would travel to.
Probably the best feature to Best Girlfriends is the wealth of information. Each chapter is organized into where to eat, where to stay, how to get there, points of interest, how to prepare for the trip, even events to fly in for. So much information on every page and not just about the destination, either. Tips on what to pack, how to stay safe, different aromatherapy oils, best luggage options, to name a few.
In addition to having interesting chapters Bond includes great first hand accounts of other women and their travels. Those stories were what really got me thinking about a trip with my mother, my oldest friend. The only information I would not heed is prices. What Bond quotes today might be completely different tomorrow. It is in her best interest to leave that information out and let the travelers research that when it’s time to get away.


Educating Esme

Educating EsmeCodell, Esme Raji. Educating Esme:  Diary oi a Teacher’s First Year. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 1999.

Word to the wise: if you want to celebrate education month and you need something really quick to read, grab Educating Esme. Barely 200 pages it’s an entertaining, fast and funny book. This one interested me on so many different levels. For starters, at one time I thought I might be a teacher – even declared Education as my major for a while (until I found out that you never have time to read anything, you just pretend you do). It also interested me because I know two different people who have gone through that “first year” of teaching. They had completely different experiences and I wanted to compare notes.

What went on LibraryThing:
Educating Esme: Diary of a Teacher’s First Year  is smart and funny. It’s a journey inside the mind of a young, fresh-minded educator hell bent on doing things her way. Her lessons and style of teaching are engaging. They allow students to be themselves and in the process learn something.  The students are not bribed or cajoled into lesson plans. Codell disguises education in a safe, fun environment. This is not to say she doesn’t have her share of problems. Chicago has it’s gang culture, it’s broken homes, it’s drug addled families; not to mention a difficult hierarchy within the school system. Codell encounters it all with grace and strength.

Funny quotes: “The way they sassed patrons they didn’t like. The way they seemed to know too much. A little like librarians” (p 62). You would think this quote would somehow offend me on some level…especially considering the fact Esme is describing prostitutes! LOL
“What sort of Jedi would I be if I don’t really face the Dark Side? Mr. Turner may be Vader, but is there an enemy that remains to be revealed , like that bossy old wrinkled guy who told Vader what to do?” (p 112).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter “Teachers and Teaching Tales” (p 230). I love how Pearl calls Codell “relatively” hip (p 231).