December was the whirlwind it always is. Exams, hiring, and personnel evaluations at work. Christmas cards and wrapping gifts at home. Celebrations with families and friends. The bestie and I had a great time on the last weekend before Christmas shopping. Yes, you read that correctly. We braved the stores on the Sunday before Christmas and had a blast. Kisa and I traveled to South Deerfield, Peaks Island, and Rockland for the holidays. Rockland was an unexpected twist, but it gave us more time with the mom. I didn’t get to all the books on my list. I couldn’t get a hold of the Seuss book to save my life. I should have known better. And, I wasn’t in the mood for Milne. Imagine that. The November Early Review never arrived. No big surprise there. That makes three for the year that didn’t show up. Here are the other books:
Aguero Sisters by Cristina Garcia
Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak
Long Way from Home by Connie Briscoe
Art of Travel by Alain De Botton (AB)
Before the Deluge: a portrait of Berlin in the 1920s by Otto Friedrich
People’s History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons
Saddest Pleasure: a journey on two rivers by Moritz Thomsen
Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (AB)
The Master of Hestviken: In the Wilderness by Sigrid Undset
Without Fail by Lee Child
Thomsen, Moritz. The Saddest Pleasure: a Journey on Two Rivers. Saint Paul, Minnesota: Greywolf Press, 1990.
Reason read: In honor of Brazil’s first emperor. His coronation was on December 1st, 1822.
When we catch up to Martin Moritz Thomsen Titus in The Saddest Pleasure he is now sixty-three years old. Depending on which review you read, Thomsen either was asked to leave the Ecuadorian farm he co-owned with partner, Ramon, or he just up and left. Either way, in the beginning of The Saddest Pleasure he sets out to travel to Amazonian Brazil via two rivers. Along his journey he tries to reconcile difficult memories of a contentious relationship with his father, while wrangling with the effects of aging and mourning the loss of the farm he shared with Ramon. He seems sarcastically obsessed with being a farmer and very reluctant to admit he is a writer because farming seems the more noble profession. In fact, in my opinion, the entire book is more of a look back at the should haves, could haves, and would haves of his life. A lot of cantankerous regret is interspersed in the memory. He calls travel the saddest pleasure, but I would say the saddest pleasure was reading this book.
Line I loved, “I have lived too long with poor people to sit now in the middle of all this jewelry and the electronic crapola and the whores and the gangsters who want to own it, eating overpriced food, listening for eight hours straight to Muzak’s plastic masturbatory music not to feel a profound disorientation” (p 21).
Here’s another, “Starved for protein, crippled by malnutrition, they have lost about 20% of their intelligence” (p 84).
Author fact: Thomsen lived another ten years after The Saddest Pleasure. I surely hope he found happiness in that remaining time.
Book trivia: Some view The Saddest Pleasure as the completion to a trilogy about Moritz’s time in the Peace Corps. Living Poor was considered book one (also on my Challenge list), and Farm on the River of Emeralds was book two. Another interesting fact about The Saddest Pleasure is that it won the 1991 Governor’s Writers Award.
As an aside, my copy of Saddest Pleasure has an amazing cover illustrated by Alfredo Arreguin.
Nancy said: Pearl said she found Thomsen’s memoir “to be utterly enthralling” (Book Lust To Go p 43). She then went on to take up considerable real estate in the chapter quoting The Saddest Pleasure, as she admits, “the book is filled with quotable lines” (p 44). Yes, yes it is.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter simply called “Brazil” (p 43).
December started with an overnight to New York City. This is going to sound strange coming from a girl from a small town in Maine, but I love, love, love the Big Apple. I love the grit and congestion. I love all the food choices (pizza!). Of course I also love the fact I can leave it!
We were there to see Natalie Merchant receive the John Lennon Real Love Award at Symphony Space. A fantastic night! Since we rattled down to the city via rails I was able to get a lot of reading done. Here is the proposed plan for the rest of the month:
- The Aguero Sisters by Cristina Garcia (EB) – in honor of December being the best month to visit the Caribbean. I thought I had gotten rid of all the “best month to travel to. [location” books but I guess not.
- A Long Way From Home by Connie Briscoe (EB) – in honor of Briscoe’s birth month being in December.
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss – for Christmas.
- Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne – in honor of the month Eeyore was born.
- A People’s History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons (P) – in honor of the history of the Constitution. Yes, I know I read this some years ago, but I can’t find the review anywhere, so I am reading it again.
- The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton (EB) – in honor of de Botton’s birth month being in December.
- A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (EB) – in honor of Bryson’s borth month being in December.
- Before the Deluge by Otto Friedrich (EB)- in honor of Berlin’s Tattoo Festival which takes place in December every year.
- Saddest Pleasure by Moritz Thomsen – in honor of Brazil’s first emperor.
- Without Fail by Lee Child (EB) – started in July.
- The Master of Hestviken: In the Wilderness by Sigrid Undset (EB) – started in October.
Garcia-Roza, Luiz Alfredo. Blackout: an Inspector Espinosa Mystery. Translated by Benjamin Moser. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2008.
Reason read: to finish the series started in February in honor of Brazil’s Carnival.
When a crippled and seemingly homeless man is found shot to death in a cul-de-sac in a wealthy neighborhood Espinosa knew from childhood personal intrigue is added to his professional duty to find the killer. The secluded neighborhood is up a very steep hill so why would a vagrant man with only one leg be there, especially late at night in a torrential downpour? Espinosa likes two men for the crime. Both were collecting their cars in the same cul-de-sac after a dinner party. Both men initially lie to Espinosa but one man in particular holds his attention longer. There is something about Aldo. Espinosa and his team slowly turn up the pressure on their prime suspect, showing up at Aldo’s work, following him around town, and repeatedly interviewing his therapist wife. Such scrutiny finally reveals Aldo is having an affair with a coworker. Even after Aldo’s wife is found murdered Espinosa refuses to consider he has an open and shut case. He shows considerable restraint when he does not eagerly arrest the obvious suspect.
Character development is subtle and substantial all at once. The character of Camilla Bruno was intriguing. Was she seducing patients or not? I wish I had more Garcia-Rozas on my Challenge list. I would have liked to see how Espinoza’s personality evolves. His love of books, for example.
One of the best part’s of Garcia-Roza’s writing is his elegant descriptions of the Rio de Janeiro neighborhoods (Copacabana and Ipanema specifically). I found myself playing around with Google Earth just to see how close he came to matching the true landscapes.
As an aside, I just finished watching two documentaries about how an innocent man spent considerable time in prison for a crime he didn’t commit because the state wanted to close their high profile case. Police became fixed on the wrong man and made the evidence fit the guilt instead of looking at every viable suspect out there. Espinosa would have been good on both of these cases. He certainly wouldn’t have rushed to judgement.
Author fact: Garcia-Roza is an academic and has written at least five other books which are not on my Challenge list.
Book trivia: this is the sixth book in the Espinosa series.
Nancy said: Pearl said “mystery fans can rejoice in reading Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s complex novels” (Book Lust To Go p 45).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the very simple chapter called “Brazil” (p 43).
I will make a return to racing in two weeks. My last public run was in July. I’m not ready. Simply not. March is also two Natalie Merchant concerts. A return to my favorite voice. Here are the books:
- Monkey’s Raincoat by Robert Crais – in honor of March being a rainy month. Dumb, I know.
- Topper by Thorne Smith – in honor of Smith’s birth month being in March.
- Giant by Edna Ferber – in honor of Texas becoming a state in March.
- Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam – in honor of March being the month the U.S. finally pulled out of Vietnam.
- Cherry: a Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard by Sara Wheeler in honor of March being the month Apsley ended his depot journey.
- Gemini by Dorothy Dunnett – to finally finish the series started in August in honor of Dunnett’s birth month.
- Blackout by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza – to finish the series started in February in honor of the Carnival festival in Brazil.
- Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov – to continue the series started in honor of Asimov’s birth month.
- The Moor by Laurie R. King – to continue the series started in January in honor of Mystery Month.
- Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver – still reading
- Sharp by Michelle Dean – still reading
- Calypso by David Sedaris – needed for the Portland Public Library reading challenge.
- Living with the Little Devil Man by Lina Lisetta – written by a faculty member.
- Hidden Southwest edited by Ray Riegert – for my May trip.
- 1,000 Places to See Before You Die by Patricia Schultz – for my May trip…and the 2020 Italy trip.
What to say about this month? It was epic in a myriad of ways. First and foremost, I turned half a century old. I don’t mind the number; I am not bothered by the age. Never the less, friends and family gathered for a party to remember. And. And! And, I re-upped my commitment to running. It’s been slow but I have to admit something here – my breathing has been effed up. I have a scheduled appointment for early March so…I continue to read.
Here are the books:
- Take This Man by Frederick Busch. (EB & print)
- Good Night Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning by Alice Walker. (EB)
- Crossers by Philip Caputo. (EB and print)
- Alone in the Crowd by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza. (EB and print)
- Tragic Honesty by Blake Bailey. (print only)
- Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner. (AB, EB and print)
- A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King. (EB and print)
- Caprice and Rondo by Dorothy Dunnett. (print)
- Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov. (EB)
- A Fine and Bitter Snow by Dana Stabenow. (EB and print)
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- How to be a Patient by Sana Goldberg.
- Corregidora by Gayl Jones (reread).
- Exploring the Southwest by Tammy Gagne.
- Calypso by David Sedaris (started).
- Sharp by Michelle Dean (continuing)
- Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (continuing)
Garcia-Roza, Luis Alfredo. Alone in the Crowd. Translated by Benjamin Moser. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2007.
Reason read: Brazil’s Carnival takes place in February.
Espinosa, the book worm police chief in Rio de Janeiro has a problem. An elderly woman in his district was struck dead by a bus. Despite this happening in a crowd of people, no one can say for sure what really happened. Had she been pushed or not? She could have slipped off the curb and fallen into the path of the bus. Given her age this was the likely scenario. Dozens of witnesses and no one saw a thing. Ordinarily, a police chief with dozens of other more pressing cases would call this an accident and move on, but Espinosa can’t for some reason. This same elderly woman tried to visit him earlier in the day. She had something to say to him and him alone. That one detail has Chief Inspector Espinosa thinking and the more he thinks the more his past haunts him.
Lines I liked, “The chief didn’t much believe in coincidences, especially when they resulted in death” (p 67).
Confessional: once again, I am reading books in a series out of order. Luckily, this time I only have two. Not a big deal.
Author fact: Garcia-Roza’s first claim to fame was writing textbooks for philosophy and psychology.
Book trivia: Alone in the Crowd was super short. You could read this in a weekend, which is a good thing because you will want to jump to the next book in the series immediately.
Nancy said: Pearl said mystery fans “can rejoice in reading Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s complex novels” (Book Lust To Go p 45).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the straightforward chapter “Brazil” (p 43).
We are nearly one full week into February and I have yet to report what is on the reading list. I have to admit, my other (non-book) life got in the way. I was selected for jury duty for a trial that lasted three days, a friend was admitted to the hospital with atrial fibrillation for three days, an uncle was taken off hospice, and oh yeah, I turned fifty with my family and friends in attendance. The last week of January going into the first week of February was all a bit nutty. And. And! And, I am running again. So, there’s that. But enough of that. Here are the books:
- Good Night Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning by Alice Walker (EB)- in honor of Walker’s birth month.
- Take This Man by Frederick Busch (EB & print) – in memory of Busch’s death month.
- Crossers by Philip Caputo (EB & print) – in honor of Arizona becoming a state in February.
- Alone in the Crowd by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza (EB & print) – in honor of Brazil’s festival.
- Tragic Honesty by Blake Bailey (print) in honor of Yates’s birthday.
- Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner (AB) in honor of February being Feed the Birds Month.
- A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King (EB & print) – to continue the series started in honor of January being Mystery Month.
- Caprice and Rondo by Dorothy Dunnett (print) – to continue the series started in honor of Dunnett’s birth month being in August.
- Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov (EB) – in honor of Asimov’s birth month being in January.
- A Fine and Bitter Snow by Dana Stabenow (EB & print) – to continue the series started in January in honor of Alaska becoming a state.
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- How to Be a Patient by Dr. Sana Goldberg (confessional: I started this in January and haven’t finished it yet).
- Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver.
Chatwin, Bruce. The Viceroy of Ouidah. New York: Summit Books, 1980.
In the simplest of terms this short (155 pg) novella follows the life of Brazilian slave trader Francisco Manoel da Silva from 1812 to 1857 in the West African region of Dahomey. This is not a book full of character development and ambling plot lines. The writing is concise and what Chatwin doesn’t say is almost more important as what makes it onto the page. He takes a true story and weaves magic into it. Francisco grows up destined to be a slave trader. Orphaned at a young age, he was coldly indifferent to the sufferings of man. He knew early on that feelings were a sign of weakness. As he grew older he wandered from job to job, each one taking him closer to destiny; branding cattle until he moved on to work with a man who sold the equipment of slavery, for example. Francisco too a fascination with slave dealings watching the boats come in and the “cargo” unloaded.
Lines I liked: “His boot crushed a begonia as he went” (p 19) because it connects to the last line of the book, “…crushing a cockroach under the hell of his combat boot” (p 155). One final quote, “Each year, with the dry season, he would slough off the habits of civilization and go to war” (p 116).
Reason read: November is a sexy time to visit Brazil. This book may not inspire that trip, though.
Author fact: Chatwin was art auctioneer for Sotheby & Co.
Book trivia: The Viceroy of Ouidah feels like the ugly, less famous brother of a rock star; a brother deemed unworthy of even a corner of the red carpet. When holding The Viceroy of Ouidah in our hands, no less than nine times are we reminded that Chatwin also wrote In Patagonia in addition to The Viceroy of Ouidah. In fact, the entire back cover of Viceroy is dedicated to the praise of In Patagonia. It made me think I was reading the wrong book and that The Viceroy of Ouidah wasn’t worth my time. It was off putting to open a book only to read about the “other” one.
BookLust Twist: Even though The Viceroy of Ouidah was inspired by real people and real events Chatwin decided to call this a work of “the imagination” because of “the patchiness of my material” (preface, The Viceroy of Ouidah), but that didn’t stop Pearl for including it in the chapter called “True Adventures” (More Book Lust, p 224).