Sept ’12 is…

September 2012 started in Colorado. It was nice to disappear for a week! Here are the books:

  • Eleanor Roosevelt by Blanche Wiesen Cook ~ in honor  of Roosevelt’s birth month
  • American Ground: the Unbuilding of the World Trade Center by William Langewicshe ~ in remembrance of September 11, 2001. I will be listening to this on audio.
  • Tear Down the Mountain by Roger Alan Skipper ~ in honor of an Appalachian fiddle festival that takes place in September.
  • The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper ~ in honor of boys going back to school.
  • Ariel: the Life of Shelley by Andre Maurois ~ in honor of National Book Month.
  • Enchantress From the Stars by Sylvia Louise Engdahl ~ in honor of a kid named Matt who was deemed a hero in September.

So. That’s the Challenge plan. For other books I have been told I won two Early Review books from LibraryThing but since I haven’t seen them I won’t mention them here. My aunt wants me to deliver a book to mom so I, of course, read it on the way home from Colorado so it’s already finished: To Heaven and Back: a Doctor’s Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again by Mary C. Neal, MD. It was an amazing book.


Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York: Aladdin Classics, 1999.

I don’t know why I bothered to reread this. The plot remains with me, however murky, thanks to grade school, high school and college. I’ve certainly read and reread it numerous times for numerous reasons. By the Lust Rules I could have skipped this one because I remember how it all turns out. I didn’t skip it because Huck makes me laugh. Okay, I laugh at all but one part. I’ll get to “that part” a little later.

When Mark Twain titled this Adventures of Huckleberry Finn he wasn’t kidding. Huck is a almost orphaned boy living with a widow. Dad is an abusive alcoholic who shows up occasionally to try to steal from Huck. While Huck is grateful to the widow for a roof over his head and food to eat he is of the “thanks, but no thanks” mindset and soon runs away. He would rather be sleeping out under the stars, floating down the Mississippi while trapping small game and fishing than minding his ps and qs and keeping his nose clean in school. Huck is a clever boy and he shows this time and time again (getting away after being kidnapped by his father, faking his own death, dressing like a girl, tricking thieves etc), but his immaturity often catches up to him. Huck’s partner is crime is Jim, slave of Miss Watson’s. Together they build a raft and travel down the Mississippi getting into all sorts of mayhem. One of the best things about The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the descriptions of the people and places Huck and Jim encounter along their journey.

Book Trivia: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was met with a great deal of controversy thanks to Twain’s use of the word “nigger” in his story and yet, if read closely, readers will see Huck has a moral compass that grows stronger as he gets to know Jim as a person.

Author Fact: Mark Twain was staunch supporter of civil rights, including the rights of women.

So, about the part I’m not thrilled with. In this day and age of relentless child predators I was shocked by Huckleberry’s cunning to make himself look murdered. Maybe I’ve been watching too many episodes of ‘Criminal Minds’ because the lengths that Huck goes through to fake his own death are chilling to me. Killing a pig and smearing its blood along a path to the river. Yes, it’s clever, but to the people who care about Huckleberry Finn it’s devastating. It’s okay, I tell myself, it’s just a book.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Literary Lives: The Americans” (p 145).


Lord of the Flies

Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. New York: Perigee Books, 1954.

What high school English lit teacher hasn’t put Lord of the Flies on his or her syllabi? What student hasn’t read at least one excerpt from this book? I shudder to think classrooms have moved to the movie version, but if that means Golding’s story lives on, so be it.

This could be called the most chilling sociological experiment of all times (besides Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game.) What happens when you take the most prim and organized society (proper English boys from a prep school), hand it the suggestion of chaos and violence (they are escaping a nuclear war), then leave it to its own devices without guidance (a deserted island without adults)? All normalcy goes out the window when the boys try to build their own hierarchical, structured society. In a Darwinian approach some boys, the strongest & smartest, rise to the top while weaker boys become scapegoats and victims of paranoia. In the beginning the group is held together by necessity. They recognize the need for fairness and organization, especially if they want to be rescued. But all that vanishes when the younger boys become increasingly convinced there is a monster on the island. No amount of rationalizing can calm them. Fear and violence escalates until there is no turning back. All calm is lost to tragedy.

Probably the most frustrating part about the book was something very deliberate on Golding’s part. When the boys are finally rescued the Naval officer is embarrassed by the children, especially Ralph’s emotional breakdown when remembering how it all fell apart. You want the officer, the adult, to be more understanding, to take the boys more seriously.

Book Trivia: Lord of the Flies influenced musicians like U2 and Iron Maiden and sparked television parodies but a full length movie has yet to be made.

Author Fact: Golding won a Nobel Prize for literature.

Favorite line: “The group of boys looked at the conch with affectionate respect” (p 128).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads: Decade by Decade (1950s),” (p 177).


Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Franklin, Tom. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. New York: William Morrow, 2010.

Confession: I couldn’t put this down. A friend from Germany was in town, someone I hadn’t seen in almost three years and all I wanted to do was read Crooked Letter. I don’t normally want to ignore friends!

Crooked Letter takes place in rural Mississippi bouncing between the early 1970s and the late 2000s. From the very first sentence you are pulled into something sinister. Hints of evil lurk between the lines. Larry Ott has always been strange. A social outcast since grade school Larry pulls outrageous stunts, desperate to be noticed; bringing snakes to school, scaring girls with a grotesque Halloween mask. When a pretty high school classmate disappears Larry is suspected of murder. Unbelievably, he is the last person to be seen with her. While her body was never found and Larry’s guilt couldn’t be proven, he remained the town’s only suspect. Fast forward 25 years and another pretty young girl has gone missing. When she is found, raped and murdered, on Larry’s property it seems like an open and shut case. Except, Larry has a silent almost forgotten ally – Silas “32” Jones, a former classmate and one-time secret friend. Secret because in 1970s deep south Mississippi pockets of racism were more than alive and well. It wasn’t acceptable for white Larry to be seen with black Silas. As Chabot, Mississippi’s only constable Silas sets out to learn the truth, even if it means digging up the ugly past. Tom Franklin is very thorough with descriptions of each character’s personal life . You are pulled into Larry Ott’s mechanic shop and can smell the grease just as easily as riding along with Constable Silas Jones as he works his investigation. This is a story first and foremost about friendship and guilt and forgiveness. It is also a story about the harsh realities of racism and poverty and the scars that run deep.

I only found one bothersome discrepancy. Larry Ott is described as 41 years old. Miss Voncille is described as a woman in her “early 50s.”  That would mean at the very minimum there is a ten-year age difference between Larry and Voncille. But because they both attended the same high school Constable Silas asked Voncille if she knew Larry. Here’s the thing –  Larry would have been a toddler when Voncille started high school. If their ages had been reversed it would have allowed for the “legend” of Larry and his weirdness to be played up – Voncille could have heard stories of Larry despite the fact he graduated ten years ahead of Voncille.

In a way I could relate to Larry, especially his obsession with books. His father didn’t want him “wasting” the day by reading either.

Best line I hope is kept, “When he left, Larry lay amid his machines, thinking of Silas, how time packs new years over the old ones but how those old years are still in there, like the earliest, tightest rings centering a tree, the most hidden, enclosed in darkness and shielded from the weather” (p 251).


All-Girl Football Team

Nordan, Lewis. The All-Girl Football Team. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 1989.

At first I didn’t know what to make of the collection of short stories within The All-Girl Football Team. Most of the stories take place in Arrow Catcher, Mississippi and Sugar Mecklin is almost always the central character. Sugar is a typical young boy looking for ways to grow up fast in a stranger than strange household. Mama is obsessed with drama and tinged with mental illness and Daddy is an alcoholic with a thing for rock ‘n roll. All of the stories are laced with an off-kilter humor that alternately made me want to laugh and cry. The very first short story called, “Sugar Among the Chickens” tells the tale of eleven year old Sugar literally fishing (with a pole, hook and all) for the chickens in the front yard. Since his parents won’t let him go to the local watering hole chickens are his substitute for fish and fresh kernels of corn serve as bait…However, the third story, “Sugar, the Eunuchs and Big G.B” wasn’t nearly as funny as it was dark. In it Sugar tries to shoot his father. You’ll begin to notice Nordan has a things for guns, especially loaded ones. Probably the hardest story to read was “Wild Dog.” If you have a thing for animals read it with one eye shut tight.

Favorite section, “I threw a cat into the chicken yard…The rooster killed the cat, but it didn’t take a hook. Too bad about the cat. You’re not going to catch a rooster without making a sacrifice or two” (p 9).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, ” Lewis Nordan: Too Good To Miss” (p 173). Here is what I find interesting. “Off-kilter humor that alternately made me want to laugh and cry” was how I described Nordan’s autobiography, Boy With a Loaded Gun. Truth is stranger than fiction.


Hatchet

Paulsen, Gary. Hatchet. New York: Aladdin, 1987.

Considering this book was written for kids ages 11-13 this was a breeze to read. I think I started it around 5:3pm and finished about 7:45pm…

Brian Robeson is a pouty thirteen year old on his way to visit his newly divorced dad. Despite an exhilarating, first time ride in a single engine airplane (sitting as copilot), Brian is not impressed. He is more obsessed with thinking  about his new fate – shuttled between two parents who don’t love each other anymore. What’s worse is that his mother has a Secret. It’s all Brian can think about until the pilot has a heart attack…

Somehow Brian survives the crash and is plunged into a vast Canadian wilderness with only a small hatchet  his mother had given to him as a gift right before getting on the plane. It is obvious the pilot is dead and Brian is very much alone. As the realization of his situation is revealed Brian’s preoccupation with  his parents and The Secret fades from his mind. His self pity is replaced with a new priority, staying alive. The best parts of Hatchet are Paulsen’s descriptive hunting scenes. As Brian learns to build a fire, pick edible berries and hunt small game he grows into a mature individual. This is a coming of age story, survival style.

Probably my favorite section of the story is the epilogue. Paulsen is able to wrap up every concerning loose end – how Brian makes it home (hey, this is a kids book. You didn’t expect him to stay lost forever, did you?), what Brian took away from his ordeal in the Canadian wilderness, and the confronting of the obvious truth that Brian probably wouldn’t have survived a winter. What further intrigued me was the research Paulsen put into Hatchet. Brian’s adventure is very believable.

Favorite line: “Time had come, time that he measured but didn’t care about; time had come into his life and moved out and left him different” (p 122).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “Adventure By the Book: Fiction” (p 7).


Going the Wrong Way

Clown car

Clown car

I got a ticket. A fukcing parking ticket. Only my third in my entire life. Only the second one that was actually my fault. Ironically, the two tickets that mattered were for the exact same thing: parking in the wrong direction. Go figure. Leave it to me to park in the wrong direction. I’m irritated. But, before I spit and spew and rant about the this newest ticket, let me take you on a parking ticket detour. Better yet, I’ll give you my whole freakin’ driving history and then maybe my irate manner will make more sense.

I didn’t get my license until I was 25. Don’t laugh. I didn’t need it. I got around just fine with the help of extremely cute boyfriends, generous girlfriends and the strength of my own two legs. When I got a license (finally) I proceded to be the model driver (according to the DMV). They didn’t know about the time I somehow got my Cutlass Cierra Clown Car stuck on the doorframe of my garage…or the time I crashed into a curb going 15 miles an hour with three sleepy passengers. Or the time I killed a frog. Splat.
My first recordable offense was parking the wrong way. A $35 fine in Morristown, New Jersey. I’ll never forget it. A friend was in town and we were going to see a movie. Cruising down a side street, looking for a parking spot I saw one on the other side. What would you do? I pulled a u-turn and parked. No big deal, right? Wrong. It was a one way street.
My second offense was a warning. A cop caught me pulling another u-turn. Illegally. This time in Chicopee, MA. I was horribly lost and horribly late to meet my rigid, watch-watching, pain in the azz, control freak boyfriend. Through tears and sobs I woefully explained my carelessness and lateness and lostness to the cop. He took pity on me and let me off with a warning. What I could have really used were directions. You know, one of those police escorts with lights? When I finally got myself home aforementioned boyfriend wouldn’t speak to me for nearly a day. Brat.
My third offense was a doozy. Accused of blowing a red light. I won’t get into it, but suffice it to say I crawled through a green-yellow-then red light, only to be pulled over. I fought the ticket and was found not accountable. So there!
My fourth offense (and second ever parking ticket) wasn’t my fault. Same schmuck of a boytoy borrowed my car, got drunk, got a ride home and got me a ticket.

Which brings me to my latest offense. Parking in front of my own house. Going the wrong way. $10. Seeing as how I’ve worn myself out ranting about the other offenses all I have to say about this one is: In the grand scheme of things is that really necessary?